- Jose Guzman
ICYMI - HALLOWEEN EDITION: Tormented (2009)
With the advent of social media and the proliferation of the 24-hour-a-day news cycle, a much-needed light has been shined on bullying. As if growing up isn’t hard enough there seems to be one constant: there will always be those who single out and punish those they see as different.
Surprisingly, as a Puerto Rican male who studied tap, jazz, and ballet in lily-white suburbia I was able to survive relatively unscathed. But there are times when I look back on those individuals that I know were being persecuted and wish I had stood up for them, instead ignoring any potential conflict for fear of making myself a target.
With this topic in mind, I recommend 2009’s Tormented, which is sort of a British version of Unfriended, only played out over a few days and not live via Skype. It’s an unblinking stare at a world where the cruelest of young people wield unimaginable power over any that they decide are inferior, while the so-called “adults in the room” turn a blind eye. The film begins with a funeral service for a recently deceased student, Darrin Mullet (Calvin A. Dean). The eulogy being delivered by the school’s presumptive valediction (or “Head Girl” colloquially), Justine (Tuppence Middleton), is quickly interrupted by another student, Jason (Olly Alexander). Justine seems to be going through motions, describing someone she didn’t know when Jason is expunged from the ceremony crying about hypocrisy and that everyone knows the real truth.
Soon after, we get thrust into the power structure of this seemingly upper class school with Justine and her entourage of overachievers, Jason and his nerd friends, as well as the Goths who joke about wishing they had the “guts” like Darren to end it all. We also meet the top-ranking clique ruled by Bradley (Alex Pettyfer). This group is openly cruel, entitled, brazen about sexuality and make “The Plastics” from Mean Girls look like “The Care Bears.” And when Justine is approached by Alexis (Dimitri Leonidas) from this group for an invitation to the “cool kids” party she doesn’t even bat an eye and has no qualms about abandoning her current friends. #JusticeForBarb
As the film develops, members of the “Bullying Class” start getting ominous texts. They lash out at their fellow living classmates, not realizing that Darren is back for revenge. We learn that this sadistic group didn’t just bully Darren every single day (they labeled him “Shrek”), but they filmed their malevolence and created a website. We also learn that Darren had a crush on Justine, confirmed by a letter that Jason provides to her. The remainder of the film progresses with a part-zombie, part-corporeal spirit version of Darren enacting bloody vengeance on those who wronged him, and even on the person that he loved.
The film is not an easy watch. Don’t get me wrong, there is some depraved joy from watching spoiled kids beyond redemption reap what they sowed, but to sit through the film is to wade through a cruel society that led Darren to his own self-demise. If the student body bullies weren’t bad enough, they are enabled by a head master who creates an “Anti-Bullying” Campaign half-heartedly because its expected, as well as a soccer coach who encourages his players to be tough as nails while giving a bullied teen like Jason detention just because he can’t stand up for himself.
But the film does find a way to surprise. Darren is out for revenge and kills most of the sadistic brats that made his life a living hell but creates an interesting way to cover his tracks. I wish the film hadn’t spoiled this twist in the very first shots but Tormented is still a very worthy watch, during Halloween or otherwise.
Tormented is a reminder of the tough world that tests us all. Can those of us that get the brunt of the abuse, be it physical, emotional or even sexual, be strong enough to rise above and live on the hope that “It Gets Better?” The fact that the current “Leader of the Free World” is an abhorrent bully with an army of enablers does give me significant pause, but I still choose to believe that there is hope and in the words of Andy Dufresne, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”