Producers: Ariye Mahdeb and Chwayita Dlulane Director: Alastair Orr Screenplay: David D. Jones and Alastair Orr Cast: Reine Swart, Russell Crous, Liesl Ahlers, Cameron Scott, Steven Ward, Paige Bonnin, Kayla Privett, Suraya Rose Santos, Michael Lawrence Potter, Sean Cameron Michael and Craig Urbani Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Though it’s set in the outdoors, “Triggered” is a claustrophobic horror movie that pits teenaged friends against one another in a battle for survival. It wants to be provocative but comes off as a pretty ludicrous splatter flick, not improved by its habit of winking at the audience to acknowledge its own absurdity.
The set-up is a convoluted revenge scheme. It begins by introducing nine recently-graduated high-schoolers who have reunited for a big game at their old alma mater and decided to spend a night camping out in the woods. After showing them bicker and prattle on for a bit, the script introduces an interloper to their revels, their old science teacher Mr. Peterson (Sean Cameron Michael). He blames them for the death of his son Caleb, who overdosed at one of their parties while they did nothing. So he’s devised a plan to make them pay. He knocks them out with gas and locks an explosive vest on each while they’re unconscious.
When they awaken Peterson informs them that the digital gizmos on the vests keep track of how much time each has before the vest explodes. Only one of them will survive—the one whose vest has the longest count. But each can extend his time by being in closest proximity when another of them dies, at which point the time remaining on the dead person’s vest will automatically be added to his. It’s an invitation to murder, of course.
Peterson then kills himself, which seems counter-productive: one would think he’d like to stay around to see how his fiendish plot works itself out. But he just leaves his nine victims alone to sort things out among themselves.
It would help “Triggered” if the nine hapless frenemies were beyond standard types, but they’re not. Kato (Russell Crous) stands out, not merely because he’s the biggest jerk, but because he most quickly turns psychopathic, willing to do whatever it takes to survive. Among the others is the requisite brain Rian (Reine Swart), the erstwhile class valedictorian, whose boy-girl relationship with doofus drummer PJ (Cameron Scott) is a mystery. Then there’s Ezra (Steven Ward), the hunky jock whose girlfriend Cici (Kayla Privett) goes nuts when she suspects him of cheating on her. The rest—Erin (Liesl Ahlers), Amber (Paige Bonnin), Shea (Suraya Rose Santos) and Bobby (Michael Lawrence Potter)—are even more sketchily characterized, though Erin is depicted as sweet compared to the others and one, we’re told late in the game, has a secret that explains how Peterson was able to set up his nefarious plot.
Though another figure will be introduced very near the close, the majority of the running-time is devoted to watching the increasingly desperate victims turn on one another and die either as their vests explode or as they die at another’s hands. Some of the death scenes are brutally graphic (something the target audience has come to expect), and the gaps between them are filled with mostly hysterical screaming. But director Alistair Orr and his co-writer David D. Jones, who is credited with concocting the basic story, drop lots of jokes into the mix, mostly based on movie trivia and pop cultural references, not so much to lighten the mood as to give it an even nastier edge. Unfortunately, the dialogue doesn’t really convince as words that characters of this age and background would naturally say, and so the effect feels forced. Needless to say, the viewer is hardly invited to have any sympathy for the victims, who are virtually all depicted as obnoxious, so the expectation is that one will react gleefully to the colorful (mostly red) demises. And though we eventually learn who was responsible for Caleb’s OD, the revelation is not just silly but without any emotional resonance.
The acting, which mostly consists of overacting, is unrelievedly blunt. Orr shows little restraint, and neither do his performers—even the few adults among them. And the picture, shot in South Africa, is, given the night timeline, extraordinarily dark, a fact emphasized by the murky cinematography of Brendan Barnes. Except for the opening sequence, Orr’s editing is predictably frantic, slowing down only to emphasize the grisly moments, and the score by Jason van Wyh and Andries Smit similarly tries to jazz up the action.
Maybe the outlandish premise of “Triggered” will be overlooked by those simply looking for another heaping helping of horror-movie blood-and-guts. Some might even think it clever. In any event, implausibility is the least of the problems in a movie that forgoes suspense and thrills in favor of the cheapest shock effects.