Movie Review ~ Triggered

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Terror strikes when nine campers wake up with bombs strapped to their chests, all with varying times on their countdown clocks.

Stars: Liesl Ahlers, Reine Swart, Steven John Ward, Suraya Rose Santos, Cameron Scott, Russell Crous, Craig Urbani, Kayla Privett, Michael Lawrence Potter, Paige Bonnin, Sean Cameron Michael

Director: Alastair Orr

Rated: NR

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  When they first premiered, I was an ardent fan of shows like Survivor and Big Brother.  In the beginning, the entertainment value of watching people trying to survive not just the situation but each other was a lot of fun but over time the chuckle factor wore off and I got to see that it was just an adult version of high school.  The popular often won out, sometimes beaten by the more clever nerd or upset by a two-faced villain.  The strategy for winning was so laid out that pretty soon contestants started winning by NOT having a strategy and the cycle began again.  Eventually, I couldn’t take the stress anymore and had to give them all up.  One thing is for sure…I would never have made it on those shows.

Watching a movie like Triggered, a South African thriller (that’s a new one!), that is premiering on demand this weekend, I was reminded of these television shows and of the fact that I’d be the first one out of the game.  Here’s an intriguing set-up on its own that’s been done in some form or another before but given a ruthless twist that elevates it from being just another recycled concept slapped onto a buzz-worthy title.  Like the nine twenty-somethings it features, Triggered is terribly shallow and obnoxious throughout yet it has a sort of perverted charm to it that makes it more watchable than you’d think and more memorable than it should have ever been.

Reuniting for a weekend in celebration of a football game, nine high school chums decide to save some cash and rough it in the woods, which is where we find them at the beginning.  Not everyone is happy about the set-up, with several of the couples already bickering and old adversaries puffing up their chests to intimidate the others.  Though they all appear to know one another well, it’s clear from their brief campfire chat in the opening moments that their long history has provided ample opportunity for bruised emotions and frustrations to build.  Plus, it appears there is a mystery from their past surrounding a fallen friend that no one wants to revisit…never a good sign.

Waking up in the middle of the night, they find themselves in a fairly peculiar situation.  All have been outfitted with suicide bombs that are set to different times, courtesy of their old high school teacher who had a son that was formerly a part of their group but died of an overdose at one of their parties. (Ah ha!  You knew that would come back into play.)  As payback for his belief that one of them deliberately killed his child, he’s suited them up with the explosives and told them that only one will get out alive.  The diabolical plan has one more cruel curveball that I’ve deliberately eliminated from the provided plot synopsis and just in case you haven’t discovered it yet, I’ll let you find out on your own.  I’ll just say it gives these friends a chance to test their loyalties to one another pretty quickly.

We don’t get much in the way of deep character introductions and seeing that the film is entirely shot at night, it takes longer than it should for director Alastair Orr to properly identify everyone.  I spent a fair amount of the film not being able to tell three of the men apart, not that the workmanlike script from David D. Jones helps Orr much.  A number of the inter-personal conflicts seem entirely surface-based and just reinforces the feeling that this generation would literally sacrifice their friends for their own advancement.  The performances run the gamut as well with some merely serviceable to very watchable like Liesl Ahlers as the mousy girlfriend of the dead boy who hasn’t ever truly recovered from the loss and Reine Swart playing the brainy one her friends like to take down a notch every time she incorporates a high falutin phrase.

Much of the film is just a lot of running around and screaming in the woods and some fairly gory sequences sprinkled throughout.  Though it’s shot well and we can see it all nicely, you do feel after a while you’ve seen that same tree in a number of supposedly different locations.  Orr seems to be most comfortable with the parts of the film with the most screen business happening, so it’s likely a good thing the film moves so quickly.  It’s a mean-spirited film, there’s no getting around that, yet I found myself more actively engaged than I expected with the final result.  I think for the film to be a greater success Triggered could have spent more time on the front end with helping us discover these characters or found a more interesting way of inserting these moments throughout the night, but almost in spite of all of this, Triggered still manages to find a comfortable bullseye.