If I could pick only one horror movie I really wish many more people saw, that would be Territories from writer and director Olivier Abbou. If anything, this film relies on what I personally consider true horror.
Territories revolves around five friends returning home from a marriage in Canada to the United States. Not far from the border, two customs officers stop them for a regular check… that soon escalates when the two men discover that one of the guys has an Arab name.
The police officers started acting nastily and the situation worsens when they find a small bag of marijuana in the luggage: things degenerate rapidly and take a disturbing, borderline hard to watch route.
Before delving into the reasons why I loved the film, I want to spend a paragraph to explain why Territories is a rather unknown horror movie. First of all, this is a Canadian, low-budget production and, although it doesn’t show any budget restraint, this premise might have affected its circulation. Secondly, Territories was released in 2010, at the end of the so-called hybrid between hillbilly-horror and torture-porn era. Within the first decade of the 2000s, there have been so many movies with this exact same plot outline – a bunch of people get kidnapped and become hostage to a group of sick individuals who torture them to the extreme.
And yes, Territories heavily relies on this subgenre but it also inserts a strong, almost unseen political commentary that works beautifully in combination with the lack of any trope you’ll find in your a dime a dozen torture-porn flick.
As I said before, Territories is a shocking and disturbing 100-minute-long film but the brutality depicted from the very beginning doesn’t feel gratuitous nor exploitative at all. Instead, the violence in this film is inherent to the story and is utilised to enhance the feeling of desperation shared by the kidnapped friends.
Yet, the villains Territories are uncannily straight-faced and nihilistic killers who recreated their very own and private mini-version of Guantanamo Bay in a deep-hidden forestry region on the Canadian border with America. Both former soldiers in Iraq, Sam (Roc LaFortune) and Walter (Sean Devine) give fantastic performances as the antagonists, with LaFortune being a delight to look at – in the most twisted way possible.
The stuff these two anti-heroes make “the prisoners” go through is, indeed, hard to sit through: as I mentioned above, however, the torture is not exploitative because it takes part largely on a psychological level. Sure, there’s enough material here to make your stomach turn, but the disturbing factor in Territories works mostly within the viewer’s subconscious.
Yet, the acting here is top-notch also on the ‘good guys’ part: most of them have no acting records, but they still manage to give convincing performances, which help the audience to care for them.
As though acting and story weren’t interesting enough, Territories perfectly shows how you can make the best of a limited budget: the cinematography is fantastic, combining great locations with amazing wide shots and claustrophobic close-ups that make you feel nauseous, enhancing the feeling the movie wants to deliver.
Although I’m probably selling this as one of the best horror movies ever, Territories has flaws nevertheless.
Unfortunately, the problems I have with this film pile up during the last 10/15 minutes, which is a bit of a shame because it might leave the viewer with a bitter taste in their mouth. Plus, I don’t want to spoil the ending for you – because I really hope you’ll check this bad boy out – so I can’t go into my complaints too deep. Let’s just say that one character is introduced out of the blue and its presence feels distracting and a bit forced; yet, the last minutes of Territories inexplicably shift to shaky-cam and really odd directorial choices from a technical standpoint.
Also, at first I thought that, when the movie shifted its focus from the victims to the assailants, it was a huge mistake. However, upon pondering it better, I changed my mind and found that to be a clever, refreshing idea that gives ulterior food for thought to the viewer.
In conclusion, Territories is the kind of ultra-realistic horror film that hits you hard right off the bat and leaves you at the very end with a bleak feeling of hopelessness and disgusted by the extent certain people’s ideas could get to.
For me, this is true horror.
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