With Jordan Barker’s psychological horror feature Torment set for its world premiere on Friday, October 11, at 7:30pm at the celebrated Screamfest LA, read on for our exclusive chat with the director and his star, Katharine Isabelle (American Mary), along with some stills!
Produced by Barker, Borga Dorter and Allan Fung from a script by Michael Foster and Thomas Pound, Torment stars Isabelle, Robin Dunne (of the television series “Sanctuary”) and Stephen McHattie (300). The story revolves around newlyweds Cory (Dunne) and Sarah Morgan (Isabelle), who take Cory’s seven-year-old son, Liam, to their country home for some much needed family time. When it appears as if Liam has run away, psychological suspense becomes straight-out horror, as Sarah and Cory must now confront a sadistic, cult-like family who have been hiding in the house all along and have taken Liam for themselves.
Speaking with director Barker, whose previous credits include My Brother’s Keeper and the horror feature The Marsh, he stated of what attracted him to the material, “Foster’s script was a throwback to the old-school horror I grew up with, where the iconography was layered into the concept. It was so innocent at first, being introduced to a young boy and his oversized stuffed animals, and then to see what becomes of them; he had me right then and there. All of this amidst the backdrop of a new family struggling to find their way was terrifying. It was incredible to end the first act with the stakes for all three characters so clearly defined, but at the same time, you’re flipping these pages, all too aware of what is coming their way.”
Riffing on the sub-genre of ‘home invasion’ films, in which Torment to an extent resides, “Sometimes the most horrific idea is the one that erodes the delicate trust we have in our reality,” said Barker, “and our homes provide us with a safe place to eat, sleep and nurture our young. What is more terrifying than having those walls torn down, physically and psychologically? I think that is maybe why ‘home invasion’ has become its own sub-genre. This kind of launching pad for a story goes back to films like Wait Until Dark or Dial M for Murder. Torment is much more than just that. I think the film’s take on family will surprise a lot of people.”
On working with star Isabelle, beloved by horror fans for her turns in American Mary, the Ginger Snaps series, Freddy vs. Jason, the “Supernatural” and “Being Human” series and more, Barker offered, “I am so thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with Katie on this film. Not only is she an incredibly gifted actress, but she is one of the hardest working people I’ve met in this business. People underestimate what it takes to pull off this kind of physical performance. What you are seeing her go through in an hour and a half of screen time, she did over and over again, day and night, for over a month. She was able to give her character of Sarah the perfect mix of beauty, vulnerability and strength.”
Chatting with Isabelle, she stated of her character in Torment, “I play Sarah Morgan, a newlywed and new stepmother to young Liam. At the start of the film she’s hopeful yet perhaps a bit timid. Her husband is wonderful and supportive, but her new stepson is less than impressed with the new addition to the family. It’s hard to replace a loved one in the eyes of a child. Sarah tries her very best but is rebuffed at every turn. She worries she’ll never be accepted and never belong. Once terrible things start to happen, you see Sarah start to become a protective, tenacious fighter – something that probably surprises her. The terror that is inflicted upon the family could easily shut a person down and force them to give up, but she finds a strength inside her, an anger almost, that drives her to extremes to protect her new family.”
As for her thoughts on the character of Torment itself, “It seems like more of a psychological thriller to me,” she stated. “There is something so terrifying about someone having been in your home while you’re unaware,” Isabelle continuted. “Fear is such a basic underlying human quality. It has driven our species to such extremes over [the course of] our evolution, especially the fear for one’s family [and the desire] to keep them out of harm’s way. Torment explores that very intense, visceral reaction you have when your family is in immediate danger. And it’s scary.”
Given the volume of her work in the genre, we asked her is she herself is a horror fan, to which she surprisingly replied, “I am a chicken. I can’t watch horror movies at all because they scare me.”
“I always say that my favorite horror films are classics like Jaws,” she continued. “In fact, Apocalypse Now is my favorite film, and I think it’s certainly horrifying even if it’s not a horror film necessarily. But the genre itself is interesting. I have been working for over twenty-five years now in all arenas – comedy, drama, family, romance, and suspense, in both film and television. In that time I have learned that fans of horror are incredibly dedicated and creative and enthusiastic. I mean, no one ever hosts huge conventions full of wild costumes, advance sneak previews and in-depth panel discussions for deep, meaningful independent family dramas about emotional abuse, alcoholism and farming. It’s a fun crowd I appreciate greatly, and if any of my work is appreciated by anyone at all, I’m thrilled.”
Concluded Barker of Torment and its Screamfest selection, “I was very fortunate to have screened my second film, The Marsh, at Screamfest some years ago, and I’m absolutely thrilled to be back. It is an absolutely wonderful festival built entirely for the fans. It is exactly what a film festival should be.”
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