It's a grim demonstration of the depressing global flux we've all experienced over the last ten years when the front cover of Territories, with its incarcerated prisoners in orange boiler suits, triggers an immediate visual parallel which few will fail to notice. At the time of writing, I don't think I'm being overly cynical to suggest that it seems barely a coincidence that this film should be scheduled for release on September 12th 2011, almost exactly a decade after the atrocities committed in America shocked the world. Will Territories pass any comment on the the utter madness that ensued after the attacks, or is this really just a cynical ploy to cash in on the disturbing imagery and anniversary of an unremittingly disturbing piece of recent history?
Whilst casting my eyes over the Territories packaging, with its shots of pain-contorted faces and bold review quote of 'impressive gore scenes', I would be inclined to veer towards the latter. However, hope arrives in the form of the production company behind this movie, 'Capture the Flag Films', who were responsible for the enjoyable French undead flick, La Horde, which touched upon some uncomfortable issues during its action packed zombie-stuffed explosion.
And I'm delighted to report that far from the expected tedium of blandly documented torture sequences strung together with threadbare plot, Olivier Abbou has actually crafted a tight, gripping, and intelligent picture which is thought provoking and disturbing in equal measure. Employing parallels of varying transparency, from the orange boiler suits and hoods, through to the shameless, righteous theft of oil from a victim's car (surely the most stark and piercing parallel of all), Abbou's debut transposes the cold, self-serving brutality of US foreign policy, and plants it directly into familiar territory, as five easy going young friends travel across the border from Canada on the journey home from a wedding.
As the five young American citizens meet a supposed border checkpoint, they are stopped by two burly border officers. Unfortunately, the officers turn out to be two xenophobic, racist, and sadistic men who trump up a minor offence and use it as an excuse to violate and attack the party of youngsters. Does this sound vaguely like a global event from a few years ago?
The 'impressive gore scenes' quote is actually rather misleading; Territories is awash with brutality and cruelty, yet this is rarely realised in the form of the blood n' guts you might have expected. Indeed, compared to almost any of the torture or splatterfests lining the shelves today, Territories is a relatively measured and restrained display of bloodshed, with the horror developing mainly from the psychological torture, and the beatings. That's not to suggest that there isn't any bloodshed; naturally there is, yet this film doesn't need gore effects. Its parallels to the real world are more than enough to negate the requirement for a more visceral approach.
What makes Territories especially interesting is when you consider how far you can stretch the parallels. The two sadistic officers, for example, have a clear split in their relationship between the dominant male and his partner, who stands up tall in front of others, yet similarly makes efforts to appease and calm his more aggressive friend. Is this a representation of Bush and Blair, with Blair running around alongside Bush, trying to limit the damage? Is the well meaning but completely ineffectual sheriff who comes to question the two men representative of the United Nations, and their reluctance to get too involved?
How much of Abbou's movie you choose to accept as a tense and violent work of fiction is your decision, but for many the horror here will hit home at a fundamental level, and the sense of perspective it lends is chilling. The very fact that we can easily draw precise parallels to the real world from Territories is what is most unsettling of all. The depiction here is of a group of people who are brutally arrested outside of any legal framework, whose specific crime is barely clear, who are incarcerated like wild animals in small cages, who are tortured mentally and physically in a variety of cruel and sadistic ways - including being locked in a lorry trailer with strobing lights and deafeningly loud death metal, who are interrogated mercilessly about subjects they know nothing about, and who are the subject of the worst sort of xenophobic zealotry. How tragic it is that Abbou's brutally honest film needs scant dramatisation for the transparent allegory to play its role; all of the ingredients for a sadistic and cruel horror film were present long before anyone started work on this movie. Yet Abbou should be applauded for his bravery in tackling this sensitive subject head on, and with steady hand and contemplative mind.
On the one hand, I'm impressed by the progress that Arrow Films are making. They have amassed a steady back catalogue of old school horror and sleazefests, replete with garishly gory illustrations to please the target audience. They also appear to be pushing more into the distribution of new releases, capturing some of the movies which are perhaps less likely to appeal to the more profit-hungry majors.
Whilst I congratulate them on their efforts and success, I'm a little uncomfortable with the overall presentation of Territories. The cover, for instance, has the word 'Territories' depicted with screaming, tortured faces behind it, and one of the quotes parallels the film with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Whilst Tobe Hooper's seventies shocker is a masterpiece in its own right, it isn't especially stylistically similar to what's on offer here. In truth, the presentation of Territories screams 'Torture Movie!', and that's doing the film an enormous injustice.
The transfer here is interesting. The feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the picture is clean enough throughout. However, it's the level of grain which stands out; or rather, the varying level of grain. The picture never really hits what you might call high definition, yet many parts of it benefit from strong clarity. At other parts of the film, the picture becomes highly grainy, so much so that it may actually be the choice of the filmmakers to represent the depressingly vast backwoods in such a manner. There are certainly some intentionally lo-fi moments here, including the awful interrogation scenes, which are shot partially through low quality CCTV cameras.
Expect similarly decent yet low key colouring, and you won't be too disappointed with the visuals on this disc.
As a note, the menu is extremely simple; this is a truly barebones release. You are simply presented with two options; 'play film', or 'scene selection'.
There are no audio options here; you're stuck with the default 2.0 stereo soundtrack. That said, the delivery of the sound is actually decent enough, from the Death in Vegas opening, through to the close, and there's not a great deal more to comment on.
For a film that is well made, confrontational, and extremely topical, it's a real shame to find no extras whatsoever, not even so much as a trailer.
It arrives with a low-key yet clean transfer, and a real dearth of extras, yet Olivier Abbou's debut stands up on its own with its confrontational approach and shocking display of Western brutality.