Writer-director Dante Tomaselli’s latest film Torture Chamber isn’t interested in a standard three act structure. For him, horror isn’t achieved through a pedestrian narrative with jump scares and some twists thrown in during the climax. In Tomaselli’s world, horror should punch its way into our subconscious fears and anxieties – the stuff that our nightmares are made of.
To achieve this concept of true horror, Torture Chamber contains a nonlinear narrative, oppressive sound design, and a solid commitment to its creepy, gothic environment. Religious iconography and violence assault your eyeballs. All of the film’s elements serve to unnerve the viewer, with the story’s anchor being a young boy possessed by a demonic force. Torture Chamber certainly isn’t going to be for everyone, but those looking for a challenging, below-the-surface horror may be floored by Tomaselli’s film.
The film opens on a badly burned boy trapped in a small animal cage. His family believes he’s been possessed by the devil, and they kinda have a point. This rugrat can makes some seriously supernatural shit go down, which typically leads to burned appendages and lotsa blood shed. But is it more mental illness than demonic forces at work? Regardless of his state of possession, the film gradually reveals that this kid would’ve been screwed anyway thanks to his highly religious family.
The boy escapes and with his clan of rascals from the burn ward, he enacts a path of revenge against his former art therapist and others who did him dirty. The art therapist is played by Lynn Lowry (Cat People) who delivers a stirring, passionate performance. She easily steals the show. The boy and his gang bring their prey back to a shadowy castle, which just happens to contain a torture chamber within its labyrinthine hallways.
The film also features Vincent Pastore (aka Big Pussy from “The Sopranos”) as the boy’s former doctor – almost like a goomba Dr. Loomis. It’s a gritty performance, but he does spew a lot of exposition in a manner that feels forced, particularly within such a non-traditional film. He’s the focus of one scene, however, that genuinely gave me the willies. Tomaselli has taken inherently Catholic themes like guilt, shame, and spiritual desecration to create a religion-tinged nightmare. On occasion, in terms of both its visuals and disjointed structure, Torture Chamber is really like watching someone’s bad dream.
As Torture Chamber taps into these ancient fears, Tomaselli displays his knack for cinematography and sound design. Both the audio and video elements of the film immerse viewers in his nightmarish vision. As a recovering Catholic, I’ll always be shook to some degree by stories concerning the devil and possession. Torture Chamber is solid on many of these levels, but for me its story felt too grimy to be truly effective. I need a character to latch onto in order for a film to really connect emotionally to a film. But hell, that’s just my personal preference.
Like I mentioned earlier, Torture Chamber is not going to be for everyone – some may even be bored due to its pace and lack of traditional narrative. It’s worth checking out though, especially for horror fans looking for something unique to shake their nerves up.
Torture Chamber is now available on DVD.