Film Review: TRIGGERED (2020)

TRIGGERED **** South Africa 2020 Dir: Alastair Orr. 90 mins

South African filmmaker Alastair Orr, whose earlier genre films – notably FROM A HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET (2016) – never quite hung together, nails it with TRIGGERED, a sharp-witted, intense riff on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME retooled with an ensemble of entitled, apathetic, desensitised millennials.

The set up is so familiar that characters name check the SAW series and LORD OF THE FLIES onscreen. The most obvious modern precursor is BATTLE ROYALE though the backstory and twist are from the slasher movie book of antagonist motivation. Nine reunited high school friends have a night of partying while camping in the woods. Amidst the usual moans about the lack of electricity and hot water, there are misunderstandings (someone confuses Patrick Bateman with Jason Bateman), shagging sessions (“I can’t tell if they’re fucking or performing an exorcism”), and someone bragging about his recently renamed band Butthole Equinox.

After having their tents gassed in the night, the group wake up with immovable suicide vests kitted out with countdown timers. They have a limited time to avoid being blown to pieces but will be rewarded with points (i.e. time) for every friend they kill. Whoever lasts longest walks free, thanks to the elaborate work of their former science teacher (Sean Cameron Michael), vengefully blaming his personal tragedy on the gathered ex classmates.

Working from a quotably vicious script by David D Jones, Orr has crafted a brutally funny study of 21st century youth in the grimmest of survivalist situations. Despite individual doubts (“I can’t even eat gluten, I’m not going to be able to kill anyone!”), the group swiftly tips over into panic and cold blooded murder. Existing hang ups, grudges and infidelities are heightened as the bodycount increases and irrational behaviour leads to needless deaths.

Though it finds at least one decent, sympathetic character in Liesl Ahlers’ Erin, the movie is flippant and scathing of most of its protagonists – which, for once, adds to the fun. The dialogue crackles, from the unexpectedly whimsical (“I knew you were a psycho when you didn’t cry at the end of TERMINATOR 2”) to the throwaway crude (“I’m as hard as a priest in a playground”). It’s also genuinely nasty, with wince-inducing gore FX. The descent into savagery, as everybody unveils their inner psychopath, produces a well judged combination of in-your-face violence, pop culture references that will date it in 20 years (or less) and funny / disturbing incidental details like the climactic LCD screen that offers final congrats to the emergent victor: “Your friends are all dead. Have a nice life”.

Review by Steven West


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