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The French have never let me down before. I've seen and loved many a French horror film, with four of them possibly being my favourite horror films of all time (Inside, Martyrs, Frontiers and The Ordeal). However, I'd never heard of Territories before. Perhaps it's because it isn't French language, but for some reason it slipped under my radar and it sounded right up my street, as I'm into the whole kidnapping, survival type horror film and I know that the French are so good at it, such as the brilliant, under-rated Caged. Unfortunately Territories is my first French horror disappointment, and I can now see why it is so unknown. It may have the premise of Frontiers, but it certainly does not have the execution.
Territories isn't as bad as people have been saying. It's certainly not the worst horror film I've seen and it does have some redeeming factors. The style of the film is brilliant with its grainy and often raw hand-held direction it feels like a typically French horror film. The cinematography is also often surprisingly brilliant and I did like its brave and ambiguous ending, which many people feel strongly against. The opening 20 minutes were also fantastic, diving you straight into the action with brilliantly suspenseful dialogue and characters you can feel sympathy for. I love how the whole situation started off customary but then escalated into a complete nightmare, full of tension and suspense.
The leading of the group into their cages also looked as if the film could be little unknown French gem like that unfortunately over-looked 5150 Elm's Way. However, it's from here that things begin to go downhill and the film turns into quite a mess, with nothing of any interest to say and with very little excitement to give. Now, Caged may have been unoriginal but it was thrilling and brimming with suspense. Territories looks good and feels good, but is actually quite uninteresting. With several heavy re-writes Territories could've been that fantastic gem that it promised to be in its opening, but unfortunately the screenplay is a complete mess.
The film spends a lot of the time showing the group being terrorised and tormented, which is fine but then the film starts to drag on, without building on its already thin characters. I think the film could've benefited from a 10-15 minute introduction to the characters so that we get to know them and care for them, or at least build up their characters during the horror. Territories fails to show any interest in its victims at all, paying more attention to the torturers and later on the Nigel Havers detective (more on him later). I don't mind the film giving screen time to the torturers, in fact I applaud it for doing so as it's the villains who are often under-developed (Eden Lake is a great example of creating perfect balance between the two) but the villains were there so much that it ignored the victims of the story.
Scenes also tended to drag and didn't bring a lot to the film such as the interrogation scene which was brilliant for 5 minutes, but then it started to drag and felt longer than it actually was. What was especially annoying was that the film completely detracted from its original plot-line and started to introduce this private detective who looked like a tramp version of Nigel Havers who'd just stepped out of the 80's! Here the film completely abandoned its characters to make way for a new one to fill up the final 25 minutes. It's as if the writers were making it up on the spot. Either make a film about victims, or make a film about a detective, don't abandon one and go for the other mid-way! Territories ultimately lacks focus. The detective should've at least ran parallel with the main narrative, instead of being shoved on at the end. He ultimately brought nothing to the film accept false hope, which I', all for, but if that's all he's going to bring, don't make him into a huge plot point!
Ultimately Territories was a disappointment. It promised so much, but quickly deteriorated into a mess. I also felt that the film was trying to mask itself up as something more intelligent than it actually is, with its political references and sometimes weird philosophical questions. Now the film does have some good points such as the direction and cinematography, but the messy screenplay outweighs its good points, which brings us out of the story thanks to its lack of interest for its characters and illogical structure. Territories is no French great, and should remain unnoticed from people's radars.
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