Directed by: James Rewucki
Run time: 81 minutes
The Lowdown: There’s a moment about 45 minutes into Canadian writer-director James Rewucki’s brash and breathtaking second feature, Tempus Tormentum, when everything suddenly clicks into place and you realize with absolute delight that you’re watching something truly special unfold.
As a film critic, and someone who spends hours upon hours watching all manner of movies every week, from big-budget blockbusters to low-budget, DIY first films, I long for those moments.
I live for those moments.
Why? Because in those moments, at least to me, all of the hundreds of tiny practical processes, artistic decisions and creative details that must combine in such a way to elevate a film to a higher art form crystalize in perfect harmony.
In those moments, you find yourself presented with something unexpected, wholly original and new, whether it’s a fresh perspective on a familiar trope or an appreciation for a writer-director operating at peak prowess.
For me, watching Tempus Tormentum, that moment came the second Mr. Mouse (Tyhr Trubiak) is forced into a large cage, which is then chained to a muscle car, which then accelerates down a dimly-lit dirt road like a rocket, the cage and Mr. Mouse bouncing along the dusty stretch as sparks fly from the steel being dragged at 70-mph in a terrifying and tense sequence that expertly encapsulates both Rewucki’s skill as a director and the hopeless horror that Mr. Mouse feels.
Rewucki, who also served as the film’s editor, deftly cuts between the cage and the sparks to Trubiak’s face to the gloved hand of Clown (Dr. Rage) driving the car to the speedometer. It's a textbook example of how to extrapolate the drive-in greatness of a movie like Vanishing Point and insert it seamlessly within the framework of a survival horror thriller.
And that’s not even the best part of Tempus Tormentum, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Tempus Tormentum is the story of a drifter (Mr. Mouse) who hitches a ride to an unnamed town where most of the buildings appear abandoned, the local no tell-motel clerk gives off a creepy, pedophilic vibe and the all-night diner is populated by a gaggle of intimidating ne’er-do-well’s.
We don’t know much about Mouse other than he’s trying to reach a destination after doing something that’s never fully described. He makes one call to a woman and simply says that it, whatever it is, is done, and he is coming home.
Early on, Mouse discovers a typewriter in his dingy, $25-a-night room. He notices that a single sentence has been typed on a lone piece of white paper. He strikes a key to put a period at the end of the sentence. Then, he turns out the light and hits the bed. It’s a throwaway scene in most movies, a bit of filler, at best; but here, it feels like more. It feels important, and before Tempus Tormentum is over, that typewriter and its single sentence will be revealed as such.
When he’s awakened, there are three masked men in his room. They drug him and drag him out into the parking lot where smoke cannisters have been set off. The men climb into a car and circle him, menacingly, until Mouse takes off running.
The first half of Tempus Tormentum chronicles Mouse’s efforts to elude and escape his tormentors. Each time he narrowly avoids capture, he manages to find a structure that’s inhabited. Some people try to help him, at their own peril. Others clearly know what’s the score.
Before long, it becomes clear: Mouse has unwittingly stumbled into a lawless oasis where the majority of town folk engage in a vicious game, sadistically playing with any outsiders who arrive the way a cat might toy with a rodent before finally crushing its throat with a savage bite. Or is it exactly as it appears?
For the sake of honesty and transparency, I will confess that while confidently scripted and shot, these early scenes of Mouse’s flight didn’t truly inspire my imagination even as they held my interest. I felt like I was watching yet another low-budget attempt to subvert the traditional torture porn, ‘wrong man in the wrong place,’ scenario with some notable, and unexpected, art-house flourishes.
But then those moments started coming.
The first arrived as a fantastically rendered dream sequence with Mouse following a masked woman (it’s implied that this is the same woman he spoke to on the phone) through a forest to a gorgeous, gothic, high-walled property. They sit and talk. The woman tells him that he’s already dead.
To better explain the significance of this scene, I was immediately reminded of the famed surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky in the way that Rewucki chose to insert such a quietly disruptive tangent midway through an otherwise breakneck first act, and by the camera angles he used to frame the sequence and the rich color pallet that he chose for the sky and clouds.
Next came the cage sequence, which deliriously kicks off the second act. It commands your attention even as you marvel at exactly how Rewucki was able to capture such a masterful, stunt-heavy moment while making it look effortless.
That’s immediately followed by a white-knuckle hide-and-chase through an abandoned structure where Mouse finally fights back. Again, what you notice is Rewucki’s attention to small details, his use of light and shadow, and the claustrophobic tension that he generates.
But that, still, was nothing compared to the abject mind-fuck of a third act to come.
Suffice to say, without spoiling the wonderful surprise to be discovered, the last 20 minutes of Tempus Tormentum is a hallucinatory slip-and-slide into genre cinema nirvana. There’s a throne kept in a subterranean basement, a bunch of strobe lights, a fantastic use of auditory torture and a slew of LSD-inspired imagery that’s as beautiful to watch as it is confounding.
Essentially, everything that has unfolded coalesces into a grand vision of a spiritual ritual and an awakening in its purest form.
If David Cronenberg and Stanley Kubrick had gotten high as kites one night on DMT and penned the most wretched and deliciously delirious experience they could imagine, it might look something a lot like what Mouse endures.
Trust me when I say you will not be prepared, and even though you likely won’t know exactly what to make of Rewucki’s open-to-interpretation, dreamlike denouement, odds are that you won't be able to stop thinking about it.
Terror Films is releasing Tempus Tormentum this week on most major streaming Video-on-Demand platforms. BVB cannot urge you enough to seek it out.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Yes.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – Yes.
Bad Guys/Killers – An entire town’s worth of crazy psychos.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Season 11
Aloha, Bobby and Rose
Now on Video-on-Demand:
#Screamers (Epic Pictures, 85 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): The latest entry in the surprisingly, refreshingly awesome Dread Central Presents collection, #Screamers, is a fun little slice of bloody found-footage.
#Screamers is pretty much exactly what you think it is, if you’ve ever seen one of those viral videos online that opens with a stark warning – usually announcing that the following footage is graphic or is entirely real – and then concludes with a ridiculous jump scare where something rushes the camera screaming.
What if that jump-scare ghost face was real, and not the result of clever video editing?
The movie opens with a start-up internet company receiving one such video from an anonymous source. The video purports to show a pretty blonde woman standing in a cemetery just moments before taking her own life. As the grainy camera footage moves to her face, a freakish ghoul with stark white teeth roars forward toward the camera.
Everyone who watches the video at the company is immediately freaked out, which encourages the top executives to push the video out as quickly as possible. The video takes off, racking up thousands of views and shares. Then more videos start arriving, only it becomes clear that the woman shown in the first video might just be someone who was reported missing long before.
The company’s tech-savvy savants do some sleuthing and uncover the address where the video was emailed from. When they call a number for the house, a woman nervously answers but refuses to say much because “he’s” coming back.
Undeterred, the executives decide to make their own video documenting their efforts to track down and expose the source as a fraud. Why not, right?
Before long, you’ve got multiple people running around with multiple cameras, screaming in the dark, being chased by unseen threats and the occasional appearance of the same freakish ghoul from the initial video.
Is it the greatest found-footage scary movie ever made? Not at all. But I never felt like #Screamers was trying to be. It is what it is, which is a fast-paced frightmare with just enough jump scares and interesting twists to justify your time spent watching.
Not to be Overlooked:
The Chamber (Cinedigm, 87 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Here’s the thing about claustrophobic underwater thrillers that all writer-directors should do:
Watch James Cameron’s The Abyss. Watch Luc Besson’s The Big Blue. Watch Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot.
Hell, even watch The Poseidon Adventure, but just watch a movie that’s already tackled the terror, the anxiety and the rising water level that comes with the imminent threat of drowning.
Ben Parker’s debut, The Chamber, is about – you guessed it – a doomed underwater mission. It involves an outdated submersible research submarine, a trio of American special ops soldiers and one very stubborn pilot, Mats, played by Johannes Kuhnke (Force Majeure).
There are several lynchpins that need to exist to satisfy viewers watching a deep-sea adventure.
First, and foremost, there’s got to be a good reason for people to risk their lives venturing down into the chilly depths. The Chamber checks this box with a solid, topical hook – an American spy drone has crashed into the chilly waters off North Korea just as the reclusive regime is ramping up threats of launching ballistic missiles from a submarine. U.S. forces want to retrieve the data from the drone, and destroy it, before the North Koreans find out it exists.
Second, there needs to be some good underwater cinematography to fully immerse the audience and transport them hundreds of meters into the deep. The Chamber barely includes any underwater scenes other than grainy images from a handful of exterior cameras around the submersible.
Third, while it’s true that extreme situations often bring out the worst in people, no one wants to sit for 90 minutes or more watching people angrily waiting to die as water slowly fills the hull.
The Chamber unspools like a four-person stage play. You’ve got two camps – Mats, who understands the limits of his submersible, and the soldiers, led by Charlotte Salt’s Edwards, who only care about fulfilling their mission, even if it’s a one-way trip.
The bulk of The Chamber, then, involves people yelling at one another, pointing fingers of blame and assaulting each other. Parker’s scripts relies heavily on empty exchanges – ‘I can’t tell you that,’ followed by ‘I know you can’t tell me that, but I really want to know’ – followed by more arguing back and forth.
If you’re hellbent to watch a movie about people braving death underwater, there are a lot better options than The Chamber. However, if you simply want to replicate the feeling of a slow, drawn-out death, then this might be the movie for you.