'Triggered' tries so spark intense combat by lighting the shortest fuses between friends, but awful character designs prevent audiences from finding entertainment in the austere gameplay.
- 🕒 Simple concept.
- 🕒 Brutal means.
- 🕒 Characters you hate to hate.
- 🕒 Nothing beyond the bloodshed.
The pull-quote description for Alastair Orr's Triggered is Saw meets Lord Of The Flies meets Battle Royale. Sounds rad, right? An egregiously vapid friend posse reunites after their high school haze has dissipated, now forced to rethink the relationships they've cherished for so long. They would rather not play this twisted game of kill or be 'sploded, but here they are. Screaming obscenities, backstabbing without a second thought, and over-performing horrendously one-note caricatures to a degree that's laughable with intent. The problem? You don't care who lives or dies, which, for me, torpedoes any anticipation or tension.
On the eve of a vital hometown football game, nine friends forgo hotel accommodations in favor of woodland camping. While snoozing, a teacher from their past, Mr. Peterson (Sean Cameron Michael), knocks them unconscious with noxious gas and rigs explosive vests to their torsos. The Jigsaw wannabe explains his motivations, blaming the group for his son Caleb's death (who overdosed in their presence), then blows his brains against a tree. Timers begin ticking down on each vest's electronic monitor display, all varied. The only rule these players know is whoever has the most time left will survive. Let the competition begin.
Any development to this point, as dictated by David D. Jones' screenplay, is rushed and without complexity. An introductory shot represents Mr. Petersen as a psychopath running around isolated backwoods; then, we crack open a campfire brewski with absolute monster humans who start stoking forced-and-foolish drama. Kato (Russell Crous), this mega-asshole who forces a vocal Marc Evan Jackson impression, keeps quoting movies the whole time because, of course, the maniac is the multimedia obsessor. Jock womanizer Ezra (Steven John Ward) verbally assaults valedictorian Rian (Reine Swart) because she, wait for it, uses big words. Cici's (Kayla Privett) defining traits? Going uber-crazy-girlfriend and accusing Ezra of being a cheating wank. These broad-stroke contestants are so paper-thin you'd think they're origami puppets, which never benefits Triggered.
Memorable horror titles begin with strong characters and thoughtful storytellers. Violence and gore are supplementary. Orr intends to prove humanity's worst instincts when death is an assurance, as the moral compasses within each character start spinning out of control. The only issue is, the driving conflict - the answer to who silently killed Caleb years ago and doomed the collective - never becomes more important than vulgar execution sequences. From carnage kabooms to slit throats to mangled hands hammered into unnatural shapes. The way Kato instantly switches on his Patrick Bateman mode at the same time directionless drummer boy P.J. (Cameron Scott) tries to recall who Jason Bateman is (an actual gag) is, once again, comedic in the wrong ways. At times, panicked friends seem to sacrifice themselves to the narrative's bloodlust for situational, not compelling reasons.
"I can't kill someone, I can't even eat gluten." Eyeroll.
Maybe character designs won't be as distracting for some. It's acceptable to watch Triggered and revel in the narcissism and cynical societal madness that boils friendships down to necessity, not loyalty. Orr's vision is bleak, straightforward, and snarlin' mean. The crudeness of its details could make for a no-investment dive into depravity since, oh right, killing one another adds time onto the nearest vest based on proximity sensors. Slay your bestie, inherent their remaining countdown clock. It's a concept I'm in love with, frankly, as the graphic text on vest screens taunts victims when their lights flicker red to signify they're now the lowest minute total. I just wish it happened to, odd enough to admit, better people?
In the end, Triggered feels beholden to its demo-rigged harnesses in ways that shortchange almost every other cinematic front. Brendan Barnes' cinematography cleverly illuminates darkened forestation with bright stoplight colors, and "game over" moments can be sickly brutal; bloodily, combustible, and grandiose. Outside of all that? Alastair Orr introduces possibly this year's most aggressively hatable roster of horror movie dunderheads thrust into an unwinnable gauntlet. For the last time, this is most certainly as intended. I'm just firmly in the demographic of viewers who need more than flimsy personality justifications to murder on-screen.
Triggered will be available on VOD on November 6th, 2020.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for such outlets as What To Watch, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria, Shudder, Ebert Voices, and countless other publications. He is a member of the Hollywood Critics Association and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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