Territories (2010): Out now on DVD
(18) Running time: 95 minutes
Director: Olivier Abbou
Writers: Olivier Abbou, Thibault Lang Willar
Starring: Cristina Rosato, Michael Mando, Roc LaFortune
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Here is a nasty little horror that slipped under the radar and, considering the content, should have caused a little controversy on release. The story concerns five friends on their way back from a wedding in Canada. They must cross the border back into America, but they are stopped by what appear to be two customs officers. Pulled over for a broken light, the five friends co-operate, however things turn nasty in a truly tense, well directed and well acted opening ten minutes that will literally have you on the edge of your seat. The officers seem to want trouble, and argue with the group and eventually search the car. Unfortunately they find a small amount of dope, and now things really turn bad. One guy is shot, their dog gutted (to search for narcotics) and the unfortunate female who stands up for her mute brother is strip searched in the most vile way possible. The group are carted off, stripped, made to wear what look like prison clothes and wake up to find themselves in animal cages in the woods.
A bad start then, and this is one of those films that shows no sign of a happy ending. Things get worse as the group are all labelled with a hot iron, with numbers. At this point you are not sure where this film is going. Are they betting subjects for some horrific group of rich people, are they simply torture devices, will they actually be handed over to the authorities, or is there something even darker and more sinister at play here? The film starts out in sort of Hostel territory, but as we get to learn more about the so-called customs officers, the film takes a plunge into some really dark and risky territory. The victims all play their parts incredibly well, they really do appear terrified and don’t really have a lot to do other than scream. The mute guy has a moment to shine as one of the captor’s appears to have some feelings underneath all the brutality, and the main guy who is captured does an awful lot of threatening and shouting. The two females produce terrific characters, one a strong minded lawyer who refuses to let these bullies win, the other a more quiet girl who has sadly got an infection in her tooth (something which leads to an almost unwatchable scene later on).
The victims fill the screen exactly how they should, but oddly it is the captor’s who steal the show here. The pair convincingly play their parts and bring some real menace to their characters, one is vicious and unrelenting, the other borders on a simple minded person almost forced into doing what they do. I say almost because deep down there is something sinister about both men, and sadly their true colours shine through all too soon. We learn that one is a former prison guard at Guantanamo prison, a place where prisoners were tortured into telling the truth, something he cannot let go of. Angry at the fact Guantanamo is being shut down, he has plenty of political speeches which are bound to anger viewers. His often racist comments are just the tip of the iceberg as we soon learn that he intends to force some sort of confession out of these innocent kids.
The pair are very clever when visited by the local sheriff investigating the missing kids, and there are some well crafted and very tense scenes to follow. As the kids are forced into confessing to crimes they did not commit, you begin to really wonder how far this film will go. The ex prison guard even believes one of the kids, who is Muslim, is part of one of those Muslim terrorist units, pointing him out in a video which is impossible to actually make out. These moments show just how twisted this man has become, and makes you wonder just how far this film is willing to push things. It deals with risky, political statements, and in these later moments you will be appalled.
An investigator is hired to look for the kids, and his story is a strange one too, and gives the film a real strong horror finish both in mood and design. The poor fella, addicted to drink and drugs, suffers hallucinations of his dead daughter and some dreams within a dream moments offer up some unique scares. The music in these final scenes really add some chilling atmosphere, and the whole mood of the film changes to something even darker and more sinister as it reaches its sudden climax. Territories is a bit of a thinking man’s horror, not afraid to bring some political statements into the harsh story, and not afraid to push things a little too far. It is not an easy watch, and there is nothing here that will brighten up your day. But hey, this is horror, and horror is supposed to upset the viewer in some way.