Day 20: Female-Helmed Horror Movies For October
Tormented (aka Berkshire County)
Directed by Audrey Cummings
1 hour, 23 minutes
I watched it on Tubi.
This movie started out under the title “Berkshire County” and then became “Tormented.” For once, a title change was a good idea. It sets up the theme so nicely. Kylie (Alysa King) goes to a high school Halloween party, where she is coerced by the boy she likes to give him a blow job. It’s exactly the kind of “grey area” sexual experience that we’ve all been discussing lately. Was this consensual? But then it turns into full assault when the jerk and his friend both film it and it “ends up” online. Everyone in Kylie’s life then proceeds to make her life a living hell. Even her mother yells at her for not standing up for herself and for bringing shame upon herself. That is so horrific to start with. And when she takes a first time babysitting job at a big house out in the sticks, she’s even treated like garbage by the kids’ mom, who hisses at her that if she could’ve gotten anyone else last minute, she would’ve. Even this lady knows about the blow job video. So by the time the “You’re Next”/”The Strangers” rip-off bad guys show up to do some home invading, she’s already so beaten down and frustrated. So that’s not a good place to start from in a fight for your life. But it’s an excellent place to start the big conflict in a horror movie.
I’m gonna guess that Director Audrey Cummings is neither a mom nor has she ever been a babysitter. She and the writer, Chris Gamble, clearly haven’t spent much time around children. The kids are barely people and certainly not distinctive characters. Kylie is a lousy babysitter and seems completely unaware of any other steps to bedtime besides okay, they’re in pajamas, play for a bit and then get in the bed. None of Laurie Strode’s reading stories, watching scary movies or carving jack-o-lanterns. Granted, Laurie didn’t need to try quite that hard but hey, she was a doer. That’s why we rooted for her. (Spoiler alert: go see the new “Halloween” and skip “Tormented.”)
But Kylie’s barely even nice to the kids and doesn’t seem to enjoy these dreamy, well-behaved children at all. She tells the little girl there aren’t real monsters, at least not until high school, super freaking out the little girl. And then once the bad guys show up (a kid and a man in scary animal masks, the man looking like he’s full-on ready to pounce), she buys their bullshit line about trick or treating and opens the door. It’s really late. She’s out in the middle of nowhere. This is her first time here, and these people do NOT look safe. But still, that door gets opened. So okay, I can muster some sympathy for that mistake. Cummings has established that Kylie isn’t a strong gal. And we’ve all opened doors and then later thought, “Damn, that wasn’t smart. I don’t know those people. They could’ve been killers.” But once the “Strangers” rip-offs attack, Kylie gives only the most basic of shits for those kids and mostly just tries to hide and protect herself. It takes a while for her to get her tits up and go help those kids, but that isn’t even done in a compelling, I’m torn because I’m scared but I want to do the right thing kind of way. It was just lame. And don’t even get me started on the supposed twist. I can’t imagine it fooled anyone.
All of those story points aside, here’s the big problem with this movie. Sure, it’s derivative. Kylie makes a ton of mistakes. But hey, there are other movies with those problems but they’re still an okay watch. But this is just plain unconvincing. I didn’t believe anything in this movie. Almost every moment of every performance is unbelievable. The acting is so universally bad that I don’t even know who to blame. I doubt every actor in this movie is otherwise terrible but you never know. That location they used for the babysitting house is huge and interesting looking but it’s too brightly lit and cold to feel all that scary. So it just ends up feeling like, hey, look at that cool location they found. Too bad it doesn’t help the story one bit. The whole thing is just serviceably shot. They were obviously just getting it done, so I can sympathize. Anybody who’s made a low budget flick knows that it’s so difficult to rise about just getting your coverage, making your day because those pressures are huge enough on their own. But you still have to bring the magic, the weirdness, the flavor, and that just didn’t happen here.
But this flick did rack up tons of awards at film festivals, including the Grand Jury Prize for Best Horror Feature at Shriekfest, making Audrey Cummings the first woman to win that award. Cummings is a Canadian filmmaker and has made a ton of shorts and a second feature, a sci-fi/thriller called “Darken.” I’ve got my fingers crossed for her that “Darken” is a big step up.
So folks, I’ve had two days in a row of skippable flicks. Wish me better luck tomorrow! But I have found, in the course of this informal project, that sure enough, women make the same wide variety of horror movies that men do. There seems to be much less of that mean-spirited thread (superfluous torture or captivity or the like) that appears in some male-directed horror films and female directors do tend to portray women with more relatable detail. But otherwise, there doesn’t seem to be huge differences. Just like the dudes, women also make excellent, middling and crappy horror flicks.