Middle-aged architect Jack (Bill Fellows) settles into bed one evening, enjoying a chat over the telephone with his actress girlfriend (Sinead O'Riordan). The evening ends happily, it would seem, as she tells Jack she'll be returning into town soon and she's decided to accept his invitation to move in with her. With a lucrative hotel contract newly in the bag too, Jack's life appears to be looking very good indeed.

But then he decides to get some sleep...

When Jack next awakens, he finds himself trapped inside a coffin-type box. The tiniest smidgeon of light reveals that he has maybe an inch or two of moving space on each side, and a small camera has been fitted into the box's lid, aimed squarely at Jack's panicked face.

Jack's screaming subsides momentarily when a distorted voice addresses him from beyond the camera lens. Why is Jack imprisoned in this tiny tomb? The disembodied voice soon reveals how they suspect Jack of abducting, raping and slaughtering their daughter. He remains persistent in his denial of such wrong-doing, but the increasingly agitated voice insists that Jack is guilty - and that now he must pay for his ill deeds.

In the meantime, however, we meet troubled suburban couple Jane (Cora Fenton) and John (Bryan Murray). John is the more chipper of the two, but that's not really saying much. He tries to encourage his wife to shake off her doldrums and get some make-up on, relax a little. Jane, however, seems trapped in a perpetual state of misery. As the couple drift further apart over the course of the film, John opting to spend time in the garden, come rain or shine, while Jane skulks around their home, we learn that something terrible happened to their child - and Jane at least partially blames John for not protecting her as any good father should.

Following hot on the heels of the gory short film FAMILY comes the latest feature-length offering from Irish filmmaker Jason Figgis. This guy is prolific (see my FAMILY review for more details on his output over the last few years)!

TORMENT shares themes in common with FAMILY and the writer-director-producer's earlier, award-winning DON'T YOU RECOGNISE ME? Specifically, those of grief, love, loss, regret, guilt and revenge. So, don't go into this expecting a jolly ride!

What you can expect though, and what's typical of Figgis, is a tightly scripted (courtesy, on this occasion, of Bernadette Manton) and expertly acted affair which also pays an uncommon amount of attention to details such as sound design, mood and Laura McGann's cinematography. Even Gilleathain McLean and Ross Morris's morose, ambient score sounds painstakingly calculated.

What Figgis does so well is focus on all these technical attributes in a manner which never makes such attention obvious. That is, his eye for detail and care for aesthetics never compromises or pulls you away from the story's unfurling tension.

Though the plot combines elements of movies such as THE VANISHING, BURIED, THE CANDY SNATCHERS, SEVEN DAYS and BROKEN, it's fair to say that it stands alone the further it develops. We become engaged in both narratives as the keen editing continually chops between the two. Inevitably, we know, both are going to come together at some point - but the matter of "how" is kept satisfyingly vague until just the right moment, leading into an emotionally intense final act.

The overwhelming outpouring of grief may be a little too much for some viewers. It's testament to Fenton that one scene where she sobs uncontrollably is literally gut-wrenching. But the subject matter demands as such. Also, look out for Figgis regular Darren Travers in a barely recognisable role as, I'm guessing, a monstrous manifestation of the "man" who took Fenton's daughter.

While light on graphic violence, there's no doubt the subject matter and unremittingly bleak tone qualify TORMENT as a horror film. Furthermore, there's little place outside of the genre for the mental torture Jack is put through by his captor, and the borderline obscene descriptions of rape and murder which result from their angst-ridden conversations. You have been warned...

Replete with a special thanks to the late great George A Romero during its closing titles, TORMENT is a slickly edited, beautifully photographed and, above all, thought-provoking piece of cinema. It confronts modern-day issues in an unflinching manner, never compromising itself while maintaining a quality of drama we don't often see in indie films as unapologetically dark as this.

TORMENT is currently garnering a great deal of interest from potential distributors, so watch this space - and catch it when you can!

Review by Stuart Willis

Directed by Jason Figgis