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TERRITORIES
DVD. Arrow Films.

TerritoriesTerritories is a problematic film to review, simply because in order to discuss some of the issues with the film, I’ll have to engage in a certain amount of spoilers. I would say that these will not affect your enjoyment of the film, but if you are really, really paranoid about knowing about plot turns, then perhaps you should look away now.

Set around the US / Canadian border, Territories sees a car load of travellers returning from a wedding flagged down on a lonely road by two customs officers. It quickly becomes apparent that this is no routine stop, as one of the officers intensely interrogates and then assaults the passengers, accusing them of everything from terrorism to smuggling. Before long, one of them has been shot dead and the other four and held captive, where they undergo weeks of sensory deprivation, torture, interrogation, branding and abuse at the hands of the two men who, you won’t be surprised to hear, are no customs officers at all, but paranoid, resentful Gulf War veterans, living an isolated existence out in the woods and determined to protect their territory from intruders.

Territories starts out tense and rapidly becomes intense – the scenes of captivity and brutal interrogation are remarkably savage and uncompromising, as the four people are broken down by their captors. The political allegory is none-too-subtle – for anyone who didn’t pick up on the Guantanamo Bay references from the fact that the captives are forced to wear orange jump suits and have sacks placed over their heads, there are news clips about the closure of Guantanamo to hammer home the point. But while subtlety might not be the film’s strong point, its treatment of the subject in such a forthright manner is refreshing – and also shows up the pointlessness of such treatment, as desperate people will confess to anything, tell you anything in those situations.

The film benefits from solid and brave performances from all four victims (who are often naked and dishevelled), and does a good job of making the two interrogators into rounded human beings – one of them is suffering from Gulf War Syndrome, the other feels responsible for keeping him alive, and both are feeding off each other’s madness. It’s refreshing that they are not either a family of inbred psycho killers or urbane torturers, but rather characters that you can believe in.

TerritoriesBut here’s the thing. The film reaches a high level of shocking intensity as one victim is handed a pair of pliers and sent to remove the infected tooth of his friend (who has just been desperately telling stories to their captors about seeing him meeting up with suspicious looking Muslim men). But then, with 20-odd minutes left to go, the action suddenly cuts to a previously unseen private detective, who then becomes the focus of attention – in fact, the four victims are barely seen again, as we instead follow this run-down, heroin-addicted investigator as the film takes a weird turn into David Lynch territory. It’s either a moment of genius or insanity, and how you feel about it will really depend on how much you actually want to see the story you’ve been watching for over an hour reach a conclusion. The final scenes are remarkable to watch, and the flawed, emotionally torn detective character is an interesting one, but there is barely time to develop him before the film reaches its downbeat ending.

I won’t say this sudden plot swerve ruins the film – it’s far too good a movie for that to happen, and as final action story twists go, it’s much more effective and powerful than the much-talked of one in Kill List. But it certainly throws you off-course, and the cursory dismissal of the four people who you have had so much emotional investment in seems bizarre.The final effect is like seeing two really great movies spliced together in a way that doesn't really do justice to either one of them.

This is the sort of film where you really want a commentary track, just to get an insight into what everyone was thinking; sadly, the disc is a bare bones edition. But if you are prepared to be tipped off-course by the story, you will find a lot to admire in this relentlessly bleak and brutal, sometimes frustrating, but often brilliant film.

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (UK)

 

 

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