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January 2010

Torture Me No More

cast: Jason Liebig, Anna Kepe, Joanna Bonaro, and Kristina Doren

director: Francis Xavier DeGennaro

108 minutes (18) 2005
Brain Damage DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 2/10
review by Jonathan McCalmont

Torture Me No More

Film-making has never been so accessible. Once upon a time, in order to make films, you had to wrangle yourself a job in the film industry and work your way to the director's chair. Maybe you started in production or you went to film school and made adverts and pop videos for a few years. It took hard work, real skill and dedication to be given the reigns to a film. How undemocratic! How elitist! How 20th century! Nowadays, if you believe the adverts, we can all be film directors. Who knows... maybe you could be the next Spielberg? All it takes is a high-end computer, some expensive editing software, a degree of technical expertise, some natural talent and several thousand pounds worth of audio-visual recording equipment. What are you waiting for? Why aren't you a film director yet? Is there something wrong with you?

Of course, while anyone with enough disposable income and time can theoretically make a film, the number of home-made films to reach a wider audience remains quite small. The textbook example of the so-called 'micro-budget' trend is Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi (1992), but recent years have also seen such critical and commercial successes as Shane Carruth's Primer (2004), Gates and Bartlett's The Zombie Diaries (2006), and Oren Peli's commercial juggernaut Paranormal Activity (2007). The list of micro-budget successes remains small but every year or two, another film is added to it, keeping the dream alive and the sales of expensive camcorders flowing.

However, before I go any further with this review, I want to make it abundantly clear that there is absolutely no chance of Francis Xavier DeGennaro's Torture Me No More ever making it onto the list of micro-budget success stories. It is not merely a bad film, it is the living embodiment of every negative expectation and stereotype you can wring from the concept of amateur film-making. It almost has to be seen to be believed, which is kind of the point.

Sal (Jason Liebig) is a hacker on probation. He is also the spitting image of a man who is wandering the streets of New York killing pets and stitching them together to construct some kind of grotesque furry sex puppet. When the psychotic murders Sal's 'retarded' brother, the 'cocksuckers' downstairs mistakenly identify Sal as the killer. This forces him to use his hacker skills and 'retard' friends to track down suspects and solve the crime himself while the detectives assigned to the case (Anna Kepe and Joanna Bonaro) bicker amongst themselves. Eventually, Sal is lead into an S&M underworld where he encounters Delila (Kristina Doren). She too is a victim of the underground scene and together the pair go on a killing spree, meting out brutal retribution on all of the sexual deviants in the city. This path of carnage eventually leads them to the murderer and to a fat settlement agreement with the city.

Torture Me No More is, technically speaking, an absolute shuttle crash of a film. DeGennaro seems to have little understanding of even the most basic principles of film-making such as how to light a scene properly or how to frame a shot. None of the shots look as though they have been blocked and it is a minor miracle if the camera manages to focus on the person doing the talking at any given time. It is almost as though someone super-glued a camera to the head of a drunken wino and allowed him to wander around during rehearsals.

Visually, the film is also immensely ugly. While DeGennaro clearly lacked the resources to dress proper sets, he also seems to have lacked the energy to scout locations or film anywhere outside his apartment building. In and of itself, such laziness is not problematic as one can easily shoot the same rooms over and over again if you are careful to move the camera and the furniture around a bit. But instead of doing this, Torture Me No More is shot almost entirely in close-up. Add in the bad blocking, the weak shot-framing and the terrible lighting and you have a film that looks as though it was shot on someone's phone, whilst drunk and blind.

Also terrible are Torture Me No More's acting and characterisation. Most of the secondary characters are based upon offensively stereotypical representations of gay people or people with learning difficulties or mental health issues (the film does not really differentiate between the latter two). If a character is gay then he is referred to as a 'cocksucker' and if he has some kind of psychological impairment then he is a 'retard'. Not even the primary characters are safe from such knuckle-dragging characterisation as one actor portrays her character with one of the worst British accents ever committed to film.

The plot is also weirdly dysfunctional. The bare bones of Torture Me No More are solidly Hitchcockian as the film revolves around an innocent man on the run from the law as he tries to solve the murder he is accused of. However, rather than stick to this simple and elegant structure, DeGennaro muddies the water with an unconvincing romantic subplot and a frankly incomprehensible tangent dealing with the extreme S&M scene. In and of themselves, these vignettes are pointless and silly distractions but watching DeGennaro trying to attach them to his basic plot structure is genuinely painful. You have never seen such clunky plotting. For example, Sal (the supposedly elite hacker) tries to use his skills to find the real murderer. Does he tap into police files? Does he access CCTV? No... He effectively googles the phrase: "murderers in this area who look like me". When this doesn't turn anything up, the site he is using suggests that he go and look into the S&M scene for no apparent reason. And thus a pointless and silly tangent is born. Also painful is trying to watch DeGennaro end the film. I would happily spoil the ending for you but despite having now watched it three times, I am still not sure what actually happens. It seems to involve the cops laughing at the killer while he tries to escape from a lavatory but I am not sure why.

Aside from the offensive script, Torture Me No More is also unpleasantly reactionary in the tradition of contemporary American genre titles such as the Saw franchise. Sal and Delila use information gained from hacking to carry out what is effectively a cull of local criminals. The cull is presented as a montage and we are encouraged to think that such black-shirted vigilantism somehow renders them heroic. Frankly, it is all a little bit stomach-churning. If you do not know how to make a proper film, then the least you could do is not be a bigot and a fascist. Going by the evidence of this film, DeGennaro fails on both accounts.

The question this review poses is why has Torture Me No More been granted a region 2 DVD release? There are many classic works of cinema both old and new that are unavailable on DVD, so why should such a lamentable load of rubbish as this film be treated differently? The answer lies in the label that the film is being released under. Brain Damage is a new venture in UK that releases horror films at rock bottom prices. By which I mean somewhere around the three quid mark. With such a low price point, Brain Damage seems to be going for the 'impulse buy' end of the market. Maybe people will buy Torture Me No More for a single night's entertainment. Maybe they will invite some friends round, have a drink and a smoke, and giggle themselves silly while watching a genuinely terrible film. The problem with this plan is that Torture Me No More is not only genuinely unpleasant to watch, it is also nearly two hours long. At 80 minutes DeGennaro's film would have been a joke. At 108 minutes it is torture.

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