Given the development of a new strain of school bullying, in which cameraphones and websites are used to prolong and promulgate the humiliation, it's probably about time someone addressed the matter in a serious, thoughtful drama. Tormented is not that film.
A gleeful British teen horror comedy, featuring a vengeful zombie who's an undead ringer for James Corden, Tormented bucks the contemporary horror trend by being fun to watch. Saw and its many imitators have shown us, almost literally ad nauseam, how harrowing it can be to see our fellow humans suffer. Meanwhile, Tormented shows us that if the film-makers are crafty enough, murder and mutilation can leave you with a spring in your step.
It's set in a leafy English comprehensive school, where a boy has just hanged himself to escape a bullying campaign. His eulogy is delivered by the goody-two-shoes head girl (played by the fabulously named Tuppence Middleton), but she admits later that she can't even remember him, and his schoolmates are even less affected by his demise. It's not until they start receiving text messages from the dead boy's phone that they feel the first prickings of conscience. Is it a prank, or has he come back from the grave to exact grisly retribution?
The answer is b) grisly retribution. Tormented seems, briefly, as if it's going to sustain the ambiguity, but Jon Wright and Stephen Prentice, the film's director and writer, can't resist unveiling their bogeyman early on. You can hardly blame them. Their hulking, asthmatic nemesis is a worthy successor to the demons in Halloween, Friday the 13th, and the other horror touchstones they obviously know so well – a monster you can root for, even as he dismembers people. It's notoriously tricky to get comedy and horror to gel, but in Tormented each killing is so inventive and so shamelessly silly that viewers will gasp and giggle in the same breath.
Better still, the film isn't just about the myriad ways equipment in the average school can be used to harm pupils. There is a genuinely heart-rending sequence when the nature of the bullying is revealed, and some tart commentary on the way the self-obsessed teenagers and ineffectual teachers allowed bullying to happen.
There's also more subtlety in the relationships than in most school movies. However cliquey they might be, the highest achievers can still be friends with the worst bullies. On one level, then, Tormented is a serious, thoughtful drama about bullying. It just happens to have lots of severed body parts and some laughs as well.
Another film about disaffected young Brits, Awaydays is set in Liverpool in 1979. Its hero is Carty (Nicky Bell), a middle-class art school dropout who desperately wants to join a gang of football hooligans. He meets one, Elvis (Liam Boyle), at an Echo and the Bunnymen gig, and wangles an invite to the hooligans' next fixture, even though Elvis sees himself as a poetic bohemian and would rather be taking heroin and quoting Baudelaire.
The film is based on Kevin Sampson's coming-of-age novel. By his own account, Sampson has been battling for years to scrape the production money together, and it feels as if he's missed his moment: the northern post-punk scene of the late 1970s was re-created far more strikingly in Control, while football violence has been done to death in Green Street, The Football Factory, Cass and Rise of the Footsoldier. The negligible box office of those four suggests that mass punch-ups excite film-makers far more than film-goers, anyway.
Sampson would no doubt consider Awaydays to be an artier proposition than its predecessors, in that it's lifeless and pretentious and it looks so murky it could have been shot with an old teabag over the lens. It's also too cool to bother with anything as mundane as the characters' motivation, which makes it impossible to empathise with the central duo as they go around kicking total strangers in the head. One of them is just spineless; the other would be a parody of doomed, studenty youth, if only the film had a sense of humour: he has a noose hanging in his bedroom to remind him of the "absurdity of life".
"Maybe I'm not as big a divvy as you think I am," Carty snarls to Elvis during one of their many, many half-hearted disagreements, but divvy does seem to be the most appropriate word.
If you're only going to see one film by a 76-year-old Swedish director this year, make it Everlasting Moments, which is much more palatable than its cheesy title might imply. It's an absorbing, sepia-toned Swedish family drama set in the early 1900s. Its heroine has to raise numerous children while her labourer husband is getting drunk with other women, so she takes refuge in her most prized possession, a camera, and this leads to a chaste romance with a shopkeeper who encourages her to take pictures. It's a tender love letter to the art of photography, and Maria Heiskanen's rich, unshowy performance would have won her a stack of awards if the film had been in English.
Also Showing: 24/05/2009
Night at the Museum 2 (107 mins, PG)
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A beguiling Slovak documentary comprising four short films, each a window on the life of a blind person.Reuse content