Entertaining film about a group of school friends that falls apart while being obliged to share responsibility for a tragedy. A fun and satisfying horror/thriller from South African director Alistair Orr.
Triggered is going to be one of those rare films which don’t require many words to tell you I liked it a great deal. It wasn’t perfect, but it was entertaining and engaging all the way through, with the right amount of internal logic, explanation, occasional sarcastic wit, and plenty of blood. There, I’ve said it.
OK, this piece actually does require a bit more.
After a brief and bloody prologue in which we see a man tortured and concluding with the words “but they’re just kids!”, we meet the “kids”: nine former schoolmates, who haven’t all got together since high school some years ago. They’re spending a night camping in the woods – don’t worry, this isn’t going to be about evil spirits or witches – and enjoy some beers and light drama around the campfire. In the middle of the night, they wake to find their old science teacher giving them a lecture about consequences, and they are all wearing metal vests incorporating explosive devices and timers counting down.
So Triggered is not about trauma-related triggers, but the kind that causes a boom. Well, maybe a bit of both: all the gang, especially Erin (Liesl Ahlers), recall a mutual friend who is no longer with them, and that loss is what has brought Mr. Peterson, the teacher and the boy’s father, out to teach them all a lesson.
Battle Royale is one of my favorite films, and there is a clear similarity here: the gang is told that the winner will be the one “with the most time” and it becomes apparent that when their timers run out, the vests explode. But there are some key differences from Battle Royale, and I don’t mind at all seeing a similar model here, because it’s done so damn well. These people have less than an hour on their timers (some significantly less), not the three days of the classic Japanese film; and their durations can be altered by “stealing” time from one of their comrades. Apparently this device, which writer David D Jones recalled from video games in his youth, is what inspired the plot of Triggered, and it works well: the competition in this survival game isn’t simply to be the last one left but also having the highest score; that is, the most time on one’s countdown.
The group of friends is not made up of complex characters (an alpha male, a brainy one, a “deadbeat boyfriend”, etc.), but they have some excellent dynamics between them. There are couples as well as singles here, some of whom are getting closer in a crisis, and some more paranoid; some want to find a way to deactivate the explosives and others just want to survive. One slight flaw of the film, though, is that most of it takes place in the middle of the night, and the grubbier and darker things get, the less easy it is to distinguish some of the faces.
The young actors all deserve equal credit, so I’m going to name the lot: Bobby (Michael Potter), Cici (Kayla Privett), Ezra (Steven John Ward), Erin (Liesl Ahlers), Kato Russell Crous), Rian (Reine Swart), PJ (Cameron R. Scott), Shea (Suraya Santos) and Amber (Paige Bonnin).
Alistair Orr directs Triggered with a cynical and, at times, a humorously sarcastic tone. That tone is not just in the dialogue, but also the level of farfetchedness in the plot: whatever we see on the screen, the overall scenario or individual moments, we’re going to react with “yeah really” and then stay engaged nonetheless. It’s energetic and fun, with pumping music – again harking back to games – linking the various scenes as the “players” separate and connect again. As well as games, the script is also happy to reference other films (both verbally as well as visually), such as the Saw series and American Psycho; though I’m not suggesting this is a “meta”-type horror film, like Cabin in the Woods, but rather peopled with genre-aware characters. (“I knew you were a psycho when you didn’t cry at the end of Terminator 2.”)
Triggered is a low-budget production, filmed in just over a couple of weeks, but it flows together so well that you’d hardly know this. It is over the top without being cheesy or ridiculous, unpredictable without being illogical.
And there’s not much more to add, except… Triggered is one of my top three favorites from this year’s FrightFest.
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Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.