Bombastic is indeed the word for “Triggered,” a strident thriller in which youthful campers with shared guilty baggage find themselves each strapped to a timed detonating device. Not exactly horror, but with a slasher-style gory process-of-elimination gist, this is one of those films in which one can hardly wait for the character roster to shrink, if only so these irksome people stop yelling at each other. Director Alastair Orr’s South African production is slick but more effortful than exciting, with some howlers in the way of tin-eared dialogue and unlikely plot turns. Samuel Goldwyn Films’ U.S. release is going directly to VOD and digital platforms on Nov. 6.
Our protagonists are nine collegiate types who were teenage friends. Reunited for a football game weekend, a purported lodging shortage lands them in tents some 30 miles from town. All were originally bound by connections to dear departed classmate Caleb, whose premature demise five years earlier seems a source of murky collective guilt. But it’s hard to believe this lot were ever really pals, as they consist mostly of clashing high school stereotypes: mean girl, brainiac, space case, alpha jock, etc. Not everyone is happy about being stuck here “in the middle of nowhere,” so there’s plenty of sniping back and forth even before serious trouble arrives.
It takes the form of Caleb’s dad (Sean Cameron Michael), who holds the others responsible for his son’s death, and has devised elaborately unpleasant payback. Waking from knockout gas, the protagonists discover he’s soundly secured them to suicide bombs, each with a different digital-display countdown to kaboom. What they don’t realize for a bit is that the explosive devices are rigged so that anyone who kills another “inherits” their precious remaining time — thus encouraging the panicked victims of this revenge scheme to attack each other. With their cell phones destroyed, cars gone and no help within walking distance, they soon do just that.
It’s a videogame-like concept, with allies turning nemeses on a dime to survive and rack up “points.” Emerging as principal figures amidst the carnage are some good guys: former valedictorian Rian (Reine Swart), her sweetly dim musician beau P.J (Cameron Scott), and picked-on wallflower Erin (Liesl Ahlers). On the opposite end, prima donna Cici (Kayla Privet) lethally snaps tether right away, while Ezra (Steven John Ward) proves a more devious sort.
There are occasional signs that “Triggered” is meant to be a less-than-serious bloody lark, given its quippy pop-culture references, blithe logic gaps and sometimes absurdly soap-operatic plot revelations. But even a partial edge of genre satire would require a more deft touch than the director or his co-writer David D Jones manage. After the first 15 minutes, there’s almost nonstop violence and action, yet despite all that hectic pacing, the predominant factor seems to be shrilly one-dimensional figures running wildly through the woods, arguing with each other. And dialogue presumably meant to be parodic or witty too often elicits groans instead.
The attractive local thespians do a decent job approximating American accents for export purposes. Still, their hysterically pitched, awkwardly yakkety performances don’t quite seem to be in on any joke. The result is literally explosive entertainment that ought to be more fun than it is — while no one will be left nodding, even the guilty-pleasure aspects are compromised by the many grating ones.
“Triggered” looks good, thanks to Brendan Barnes’ widescreen photography, though you may wonder just how the forest at night manages to have so many hot-color lighting sources. Other tech and design contributions are sleek, perhaps a bit too much so for a headlong story that could have used a somewhat messier, more anarchic, less contrived feel.