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PARIS — A group of thirtysomething friends cross over the border from Canada to the U.S., and head straight into a backwoods torture trap in first-time feature director Olivier Abbou’s twisted thriller, Territories.This English-language, Franco-Canadian production gets some mileage out of a haunting premise, plus some well-executed gore, before succumbing to structural defaults and a reliance on obvious political metaphors. Still, it’s an enticing enough debut that should find its way to a few midnight distribs and DVD shelves following a micro release in France.
Driving back to the States from a marriage, Jalil (Michael Mando), Leslie (Nicole Leroux), Gabriel (Tim Rozon) and Michelle (Cristina Rosato), accompanied by the mute teenager, Tom (AlexandreWeiner), are stopped on a lone country rode by two U.S. border patrol agents, who quickly start behaving out of protocol (at least one should hope). While the trigger-happy Samuel (Roc LaFortune) submits Leslie to an impromptu cavity search, his henchman, Walter (Sean Devine), finds a bag of weed in Tom’s luggage, and then all hell breaks lose.
It’s soon clear that Samuel and Walter are not really licensed officers at all but, as one characters explains, “some f****** survivalists or something.” Traumatized by the first Gulf War and obsessed with terrorism, they bound, gag and even cattle brand the group through a series of “enhanced interrogations” straight out of Guantanamo 101, hoping to coax a confession out of the innocent Jalil.
If the political themes in Abbou and co-writer Thibault Lang Willar’s screenplay are practically shoved in the viewer’s face (“Welcome to the United States!” shouts Samuel, as he locks the gang inside dog cages), the direction, at least early on, holds things together through tight pacing, strong performances from Mando and LaFortune (Curling) and the use of gritty p.o.v. shots to convey the fear experienced by these faux enemy combatants. But things go awry with the addition of a pivotal detective character (Stephen Shellen) way too late in the game, as the film loses sight of its own victims to take a couple of unnecessary narrative turns.
Horror fans will delight in a handful of impressive gore scenes by make-up artist C.J. Goldman (Orphan), captured with handheld verve by cinematographer Karim Hussain (Hobo with a Shotgun). But Territoriesis ultimately less about the bloodletting than about revealing torture (and torture porn) to be a by-product of Bush-era extremism – an idea that seems worn out following Hosteland its many rehashes.
Opened: In France (June 8)
Production Companies: Capture The Flag Films, Noodles Production, Les Films du Territoire, Melenny Productions, SND
Cast: Roc LaFortune, Sean Devine, Nicole Leroux, Michael Mando, Cristina Rosato, Alexandre Weiner, Stephen Shellen, Tim Rozon
Director: Olivier Abbou
Screenwriters: Olivier Abbou, Thibault Lang Willar
Producers: Raphaël Rocher, Jérôme Vidal, Sylvain Proulx, Richard Goudreau
Executive producer: Jonathan Vanger
Director of photography: Karim Hussain
Production designer: Jean Carrière
Music: Clément Tery
Costume designer: Annie Dufort
Editor: Douglas Buck
Sales Agent: SND
No rating, 91 minutes
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