I live in Berkshire County, Mass., not that you would know that given the content of this website. It’s a quiet, quaint little corner of Massachusetts where quite frankly not a lot happens, at least when you consider all the attractions over the border into New York or in the Eastern part of the state, so I was surprised when I typed in “Berkshire County Movie” in Google and a real movie popped up, created by a real filmmaker that made rounds in film festivals in 2014 and 2015.
I had to backpeddle a bit. Why haven’t I heard of this film? Surely a film directly named after Berkshire County would be a big deal. Then I saw that it was filmed outside Toronto.
It probably doesn’t take place in Berkshire County, Mass.
Regardless, this film bears my home’s direct name, and indeed I couldn’t help but notice the distinct similarities in climate. A quick Google such reveals that there is no Berkshire County, Canada, though there are several towns in North America with the Berkshire name. Perhaps it was an “Absence of Malice” case, where a local name appeared in film because the filmmakers looked at a map and needed a name?
Who knows? The only lady with the answers is the film’s director, Audrey Cummings, who renamed the film to “Tormented” to be a companion piece to the 2013 film “Torment,” who has yet to get back to me. That, and she probably realized that [insert geographic location here] is a terrible title for a horror film. What’s next, “Boston, Mass.”? In order to make a location work as a spooky title, you need an inherently spooky location, such as Amityville, N.Y., or Salem, Mass., and no Berkshire town or county in North America fits this bill.
The name aside, it served as a means for me to actually sit down and watch “Berkshire County/Torment,” and it’s an above-average horror flick with some major flaws. I say above average solely for the fact that it was for the most part competently made from a technical standpoint, and it avoids some of the worst horror cliches. It’s leagues above the last two horror films I saw (“Insidious: The Last Key,” and “The First Purge”), though it does suffer from many conventions found in Blumhouse horror films, which like it or not, has become the dominant producer of horror films in wide-release theaters. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Blumhouse had any hand in making this film (It didn’t).
“Berkshire County/Torment” is a straightforward home invasion horror film, for the most part. It focuses on Kylie Winters (Alysa King), a high schooler whose life takes a turn for the worst when a sexually explicit video of her at a party gets released to her peers, a video that documents her being sexually assaulted.
This film isn’t the most sensitive thing you can watch, and it’s important to discuss how the director portrayed the sexual assault, which might immediately disgust many viewers. The jist of it is Kyle is at a party a little intoxicated, when jock Marcus (Aaron Chartrand) takes notice of her, encourages her to drink more in private, and sexually assaults her in front of a camera.
It’s not pretty and it largely takes a backseat to the film’s primary focus as a home invasion horror film, and serves little more purpose than a way in which the audience can sympathize with Kylie, but that could have been done by just writing her as a likeable character! And to be fair, there is a lot to like about her, and most of it has to do with King’s portrayal of her. Kylie is presented as someone who, while she justifiably freaks out when terrifying things happen to her, is always able to keep some level of her wits, and throughout the film we see her improvise and act quickly in trying situations. In other words, she’s competent when she has to, and she’s overwhelmed when a normal person would be.
The first act of this film is terrible. All of it is devoted to establish that Kylie is demonized by her peers and even family, who disgustingly blamed her for what happened. That, and the house where she was hired to babysit on Halloween, which is set in Berkshire County, described as being a “historic market town.” Ironically, Kylie has to babysit the children of someone on her school’s board, who also blames her for being the victim of the assault.
So basically, in no short order, everybody sucks in this film except for Kylie and the children she babysits.
One important thing to note is that the film’s only jumpscares, an unfortunate staple of horror, especially in 2014 when this film came out, come in that first act section where Kylie is given a tour of the Berkshire County house and is introduced to the kids. They are all instigated by the children in daytime in well-lit rooms and look like they’re meant to be gags, though they do set up the expectation that this’ll be a jumpscare-heavy film (thankfully, it’s not at all). This is one of the biggest ways the film sets up a particular audience expectation, just to break it in the best possible way, and it is these ways that “Berkshire County/Tormented” diverts from popular horror conventions where the film really shines, and ultimately why I think this is an above-average horror flick.
The first act has some subtle and not-so-subtle foreshadowing. We see Kylie drive by people in pig masks next to a truck on her way to the Berkshire County house who will serve as the film’s main antagonists. Apparently they’re part of a cult and they want to kidnap Kylie and the kids for reasons. But we also see that the parents of the kids she’s about to watch have been packing, and when asked directly, they don’t give a clear answer, subtly saying: There is something wrong in this town.
And then we jump into the home invasion bit, which encompasses most of the film. Kylie is greeted by a late trick-or-treater: A little boy in a this-is-too-realistic-to-be-a-normal-kid-in-a-low-budget-horror-movie pig mask enters, and when she has her back turned, two adults in pig masks enter the house. And the home invasion begins! Kylie calls the police, but being in the middle of nowhere, it takes them a while to get there. As a result, the film has this ticking-clock element to it; Kylie needs to not only keep the kids safe, but she needs to outlast these maniacs.
The police do come, but they are pretty quickly dispatched, which sets a pretty clear message to the audience in how this horror film will play out: You do not want to be caught by these villains, and for the most part, Kylie isn’t, which is another remarkable thing about the film. In most modern horror films, you expect to have at least a few confrontations between the antagonist and protagonist, resulting in the hero or villain maiming or scaring each other or a side character, leading to some cheap scares and gross out visuals. “Berkshire County/Torment” is a game of cat and mouse, where the cat comes within ears length of getting its prey, only for Kylie to slip out of their grasp at the last minute due to circumstantial luck and stealth, and there’s a lot of great little details that were put into the mechanics of how Kylie was able to evade detection, and they’re all practical and believable. They might small things like her posture to how she gently open and closes doors without a sound and leaves things the way she found them, but they are appreciated and they add to the tension that the film established in the first act.
That tension is: When is the next jumpscare? And it never comes. In fact, that tension only pays off in the film’s third act, when Kylie actually confronts and conquers the villains, with nothing but her wits.
Marcus comes back, too, and is axed off like the disposable horror character that he was. Yeah, you shouldn’t expect a sexual assaulter to survive a film like this.
And * spoilers * Kylie wins. The kids are saved! The adult pig people are killed off and are revealed to be … just ordinary people, with cult tatoos on their hands. In a weird twist of events, Kylie actually ends up hitting a cop car after he victory, which allows Cummings to jump cut to a hospital set where Kylie reconciles with her mother, who just so happens to work there. The pig-masked kid is there, too, and is picked up by a figure dressed as a cop who bears the same tatoos there. When they exit the hospital, the power is cut from the facility, which leads to an almost nonsensical, but possibly great plot twist that could possibly ruin the movie for you so I will post an additional * spoiler warning * here if you care about that sort of thing.
The cult that the pig people belonged to massacre the entire hospital, alluding to the fact that the kidnappers where just a small part of a larger organization, setting up a sequel that might never happen. Or you could just watch “Torment” to learn more, but I have to say, having an organization that can confidently pull of the massacre of an entire hospital and doesn’t even bat an eye at killing law enforcement could lead to some interesting and refreshing horror tales. It would like having a weaker version of “Resident Evil”‘s Umbrella Corp., on the regional and local level.
In order to more efficiently break down this film, I’ve developed this scorecard:
CINEMATOGRAPHY: The film’s cinematography is average, though it is lacking in certain points. The worst offending scenes can be found in the first act, when Kylie is being shown the house most of the film takes place in. The filmmaker had the windows open, but the exposure on the camera is way too sensitive, so all we see is blinding white light. You eventually get used to it, and indeed it seems like the director was trying to go for an unsettling over-exposed “The Shining”-esque vibe, but anyone with any knowledge of cinematography might see this as a mistake.
SOUND DESIGN: The film’s sound design is unremarkable at best, and distracting at worst. Average sound design completely flies under your radar, adding nothing but a realistic interpretation of the reality you are seeing on screen (or at least, that’s what your brain thinks). Great sound design can make scenes pop, often in hyperactive ways, whereas bad sound design can completely break the illusion of film altogether. I don’t usually comment on sound design unless it’s remarkable in one way or another, and there are a few moments where this film’s sound design is really bad, but only in regards to the film’s redubbing. Redubbing is a common practice in which audio is re-recording in the post production of a film in order to get higher quality audio, but it can easily go wrong when the redubbed tracks don’t match up with the lip movements of the previously recorded scenes. There was only a few redub errors I noticed, and they happened in the scene where Kylie first encounters the invaders face-to-face after aforementioned late trick-or-treater scene, which reminded me that I was watching a cheap indie film, rather than something I’d see at my local theater. The rest of the film’s sound design is unremarkable.
WRITING: The film’s writing is pretty basic. There’s some occasional quirky lines, but it’s pretty much by the books. It’s not distracting, but not great.
ACTING: Identical to the quality of the film’s writing. It does the job, with some occasional hamball moments.
DIRECTION: Pretty standard for most of the film. It is commendable that Cummings went for more subtler scares based off of tension and the character’s interactions with the villains, rather than banking on jump scares and gore. Though I have to subtract some major points for the handling of sexual assault in the movie, even if it ultimately contributed to a positive message (sexual assault is bad. Don’t do it). Though I have to admit, I feel like the film hamfisted it. I always think that these stories need to be handled with care, and I think many might see the film’s portrayal of it and what Kylie went through as insensitive. Sexual assault should not be a plot device that gets us to sympathize with a character in a low-budget horror movie; it is and can be a severely physiologically-damaging event that oftentimes goes unreported and brushed off, and I feel like there’s a level of seriousness that needs to be brought to it if it’s going to be portrayed in film.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: “Berkshire County/Tormented” has moments of greatness and mediocrity, but it definitely got me interested in the director. It’s refreshing to see a restrained horror film, though it’s first act is weak and might make some viewers uncomfortable. Suffice it to say, this isn’t a film you’d watch with your family, and maybe we’ll see a great piece of work from Audrey Cummings in the future, but you’re not missing much if you give this film a pass. As it is, it’s a perfectly serviceable popcorn flick that had the potential to be more.
“Berkshire County”/”Tormented” gets a 5 out of 10