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Thursday, April 15, 2010

THE PATH OF TORMENT -- movie review by porfle

Here's what I mistakenly thought THE PATH OF TORMENT (2009) was going to be about: amidst a dark, oppressive atmosphere of grueling horror, two kill-crazy psychos pretending to be Mormon missionaries use their bland, mild-mannered looks to get invited into people's homes, whereupon they go berserk and lay into their screaming victims in a frenzy of splatter-drenched torture sequences.

Actually, that's kinda close, but without all the "dark" and "grueling" stuff. The main thing this indie effort has in common with a movie like THE STRANGERS is that you still want to see Liv Tyler get killed even though she isn't in it. No, THE PATH OF TORMENT turns out to be, surprisingly, a quirky comedy that pokes fun at home-invasion horror flicks and manages in its own bargain-basement way to be funny and entertaining, and even a little endearing.

Ken (Craig Beffa) is a portly aerospace worker whose recent salary increase has allowed him and his attractive wife, Ellen (Dona Ellis), to move to the suburbs. One day, as they prepare for a housewarming party that evening, Ellen makes the mistake of inviting a couple of Mormons named Eli and Todd into their home. Ken finds them praying together in the livingroom, whereupon Eli regails the couple with a Bible story about a man who is forced to watch his wife being tortured until he confesses something to their captors. Ken and Ellen remark that they don't recall that particular Bible story, at which point Eli and Todd drop their guises and attack the couple, tying them up as Eli spouts profanity-laced insults at them.

As it turns out, Todd is a sensitive dweeb whose brilliant idea for some kind of satellite technology was stolen by someone who submitted it to NASA and got all the credit himself. Eli (whom Todd met online) is a devious, prankish, and violence-prone fruitcake who hatches the plan to gain entrance to the home of the guy they think is the culprit, and torture him and his wife until he admits the truth (which turns out to be that they've got the wrong guy). When timid Todd has a change of heart about the whole thing, Eli turns on him and cranks up the mayhem for his own perverse enjoyment. That night, he forces Ellen to introduce him as an old friend to her party guests and then goes about doing whatever pops into his fiendish little brain.

Writer-director Gary C. Warren plays Eli with a wicked, googly-eyed sense of fun that's infectious--he's kind of like an evil Cat in the Hat. Eli loves TV and comic books more than anything else, and if you can get him talking about them or, better yet, if you love TV and comic books more than anything else yourself, you might get to live a little longer. Unless you screw up like party guest Stanley, and laugh at Eli for still recording his favorite TV shows like "The Incredible Hulk" on a VCR.

Eli's fits of indignant anger are amusing whether he's berating a Pistol Pete's Pizza delivery guy for not taking his job seriously enough, or going off on a dorky dude who's going door to door collecting funds for a local theater group. "Theater people are sh**!" he scoffs. "They look down on David Hasselhoff for being a TV actor, but I'd like to see Dame Judi Dench drive a talking f**king car!"

As Todd, Joe Noelker gives a reserved performance that's funny mainly because his low, bass-toned voice sounds so incongruous coming out of such an ineffectual boob. Dona Ellis' Ellen seems strangely resigned to her fate although she does occasionally rebel against her tormentors--she seems more embarrassed than concerned by Eli's hostile behavior at the party. Craig Beffa, on the other hand, portrays Ken as though having his pinky cut off or his arm grievously fractured are inconveniences on the same level as a stubbed toe. Somehow, though, it works. And things liven up when the party starts, because the guests are a bunch of drunken goofballs who play dorky party games and argue about stuff like who sang that "fight for your right to party" song. (They finally settle on either Motley Crue or David Lee Roth.)

The violence should be more shocking than it is, but it's done in such a non-convincing manner and with such joke-shop SPFX that it's more slapstick than slasher. (Although Eli's final atrocious deed is seriously heinous.) If this were a major big-budget production, nitpicky criticisms could be made regarding things like sound, lighting, and dubbing (which is pretty bad in the pre-titles sequence). But the fact that it's a low, low budget film only accentuates the positive accomplishments of the filmmakers.

As director, Warren moves the camera well and displays some nice stylistic touches here and there. He also does a good job handling the large cast during the party scenes. Adding to the film's overall effectiveness is a score that includes both spoofy, over-the-top suspense music and a well-chosen selection of rock songs.

THE PATH OF TORMENT, which is currently doing pretty well on the festival circuit, is one of those enjoyable minor gems in which snappy direction, good camerawork and editing, clever writing, passable acting (mostly), and an overall air of fun are more important than the sort of technical polish that the filmmakers couldn't afford anyway. If you've ever enjoyed a J.R. Bookwalter film, then this comedy-horror romp should be right up your dark alley.

watch the trailer

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