Tuesday, 1 March 2011



More backwoods survival shenanigans, this time with some genuinely unpleasant scenes of violence and torture and an overtly political agenda. That's not to say this is a bad thing, but in a sense the lessons are unlikely to convert anyone: if you believe the reported regime at Guantanamo Bay is A Good Thing you're not going to be swayed by the film's anti stance, and if you think torture and humiliation are Bad Things then the film isn't telling you anything new or shockingly different. And Territories (also known as Checkpoint) isn't really telling you very much more than "torture is bad, mmm'kay?".

On the US-Canadian border, a car with five people - two couples and the mute asthmatic brother of one of the girls travelling back from a wedding - is stopped by a pair of uniformed guards. What appears to be a routine security check quickly turns ugly as the guards go beyond their apparent levels of authority, culminating in the shooting of one of the five and the transportation into the woods in metal cages and orange jumpsuits. The "uniformed officers" have no official status and are just imprisoning those they deem to be suspicious in intent or appearance (crucially one of the five is of Asian descent), supposedly in the name of protecting their country. Even though they've obviously done nothing wrong (with the exception of possession of a small amount of cannabis) the five are locked up and interrogated, stripped, branded and tortured by two guys, ex-military and formerly stationed at Guantanamo, who are nothing more than woodland loonies doing what they can for their country in the name of the War On Terror.

I honestly cannot say I enjoyed Territories - it has absolutely no humour or lightness about it - but it's not an unteresting film: it's certainly grim and nasty and believable, effectively done, although I figured the border guards weren't really border guards quite early on. Weirdly, the second half actually evokes Psycho, as a private detective turns up looking for the missing people and gets about as far as Martin Balsam did. But rather than contributing to any debate about balancing security with liberty, and examining the justifications for torture, the film isn't really saying very much that many people don't already agree with (and if you don't agree with its stance it's probably not going to change your mind), and is as much a controversial political statement as another entry in the rural horror genre, with rich city folk trapped in the wilderness at the mercy of local nutters (Wrong Turn, Timber Falls, even Texas Chainsaw).


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