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September 2011

The Unforgiving

cast: Ryan Macquet, Claire Opperman, Michael Thompson, and Craig Hawks

writer and director: Alastair Orr

73 minutes (18) 2010
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
4 Digital Media DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by Jim Steel

The Unforgiving

It may have a low budget - a cast of four, and two, maybe three, sets (some ruins somewhere in the South African countryside, a darkened room and/ or an underground car park) - but added to that is a massive amount of ambition and a fair degree of talent. What we might have here is torture porn's Rashomon.

We know much of this from the start. A couple of shots of captives being tortured in the ruins so that the viewer will be under no illusions - or will be sufficiently teased as to keep watching - and then some showboating credit sequences to demonstrate that the director is, in fact, technically very accomplished and is perfectly capable of committing art. Then we're in the film. A serial killer has killed four victims and now two have escaped.

They are being interviewed separately by Detective Hirsch (Michael Thompson) in the aforementioned darkened room. He is, of course, taping the interviews. One is Rex (Ryan Macquet), a bit of a tough guy, and the other is Alice (Claire Opperman), a former drug addict. Hirsch is keen to find out what they remember and why they survived but both survivors seem antagonistic towards the detective. Since the killer is completely hidden behind a gas mask, gloves and a boiler suit, clues are at a premium. The more switched-on of viewers - such as you, my friend - will already be wondering if one of the three is the killer. Not a spoiler, merely an observation; so far, so conventional. Rex and Alice's stories are played out alongside the taping of their witness statements so we see them gaining their facial injuries - and we also see the gasmask killer getting injured as they fight back.

But then it starts to become a puzzle. Obviously both abductions didn't happen at the same time. Rex stands on some broken glass while attempting to flee and, later on in the film, we see Alice smashing a bottle against the side of the killer's head. Both incidents involve green glass: a clue to the sequence of events? Possibly, but there is a lot of debris spread about... We also discover pretty early on that Rex is lying to Hirsh. Rex denies knowing one of the other victims (Vincent Davies) when we know otherwise. Why? Rex's dialogue with the killer also seems stilted and clichéd at times although this may merely be a weakness in the script or delivery. Or it could be that Rex is trying to survive by using cod psychology, as he says.

The cinematography is perfectly executed, if you'll pardon the pun. The washed-out sun-lit exterior shots contrast perfectly with the almost monochromatic claustrophobia of the witness questioning sessions where we can't even make out the walls behind the characters. The editing is flawless and the torture special effects are very convincing. Be warned that this is a film that makes use of a power drill.

It's an unpleasantly bleak film with unsympathetic characters, but it is without doubt a fascinating one and it has been put together with a care that Hitchcock would approve of. Once the reveal is put before us, our lack of sympathy for the characters means that the final minutes, despite the concurrent carnage, actually lack the tension that had been building throughout the previous scenes but that's a minor problem. Why Hirsh shows Rex a photograph of another victim when he does remains confusing and may possibly a mistake in the film's internal logic. Those with a strong stomach will be tempted to re-watch the whole film carefully to see if all the pieces fit together as well as they should. I probably won't.

The official DVD release comes with the trailer and a short documentary on the making of the film.



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