17 May 2014 | gary-simpson2
Engaging mockumentary with bite
Low budget filmmaking is the backbone of the horror movie industry. Of course, there's low budget and really low budget... and then there's first time writer/director Justin Carter's TORN: a SHOCK YOUmentary, which cost a mere £1,500 to make. Not that you'd know if from the finished product. With its lush cinematography, large cast and lofty ambitions (most of which are realised), Carter's film is a triumph of aspiration over limitation.
TORN is a movie of two halves. The first half is slower and more restrained, and represents an intimate examination of family and friends in the grip of tragedy. More thriller than horror, and more documentary than either, it's a measured affair that allows us to get to know the characters and the unfortunate circumstances in which they find themselves. It's not without chills, especially during the nocturnal scenes, but is more concerned with psychology than scares. Carter and his cast do an admirable job of both eliciting our sympathies for the unfortunate protagonists and arousing our suspicions (something about them isn't right, we just can't quite put our finger on what...) He's also careful to ground the story in nature and humanity, subverting the potentially supernatural elements.
The second half is a self-conscious change of both pace and emphasis, and comes as something of a surprise. I won't spoil any of the twists and turns, but the sedate, almost dreamy atmosphere is replaced by a frantic tone and an action-packed narrative, placing horror firmly at the forefront. As with so many things, less is more in the horror genre, which Carter understands. Strategically-lit glimpses of his villain imply far more than any amount of explicit CGI trickery, and the practical prosthetics and makeup are excellent. Making a virtue of his budgetary restrictions, the director eschews elaborate sets for the scariest location of them all, the woods at night, which is the setting for some of the creepiest moments this side of BLAIR WITCH.
TORN isn't perfect. Some of the peripheral performances are less than stellar, and Carter's scripted dialogue sometimes jars with the form. Artifice is the enemy of found footage and mockumentaries, both of which work best with a looser, more freeform approach. Carter is more comfortable than most directors with silence, which he uses to memorable effect, and there are elements of improvisation, but scripted material is allowed to dominate. These are minor quibbles, however, and do little to detract from the impact of the film.
Low budget filmmakers have to be expert scavengers, and Carter proves he has a keen eye for found detail. He makes lavish use of the stunning Devonshire countryside, which, along with the aforementioned cinematography, affords the visuals an epic sweep, and evokes mood and immediacy through a variety of quirky close-ups and eccentric aesthetic details. The attention to characterisation is enhanced by a talented cast, and the score is first rate, helping to ramp up the tension. Smart, stylish and scary, TORN is low-budget genre filmmaking at its best.