On the surface Don’t You Recognise Me? looks like just another entry in the horror subgenre known as Torture Porn. And while there’s blood and brutality in abundance, director Jason Figgis puts a different spin on things by offering more of a mixed-results psycho drama where the torturer suffers more than his victims.
Documentary filmmaker Tony Aiello (Matthew Toman) is working on a “Day in the Life” project. The tables are turned when his subject, K. Gallagher (Jason Sherlock), lures Tony and his crew into a lonely warehouse in a dicey part of town. There the Gallagher family, led by the tightly wound Daz (Darren Travers), proceeds to create their own filmed document of the interrogation and terror that follows.
I CAN’T REALLY DISCUSS THIS FILM WITHOUT SPOILERS FROM NOW ON!
The reason that the Gallaghers take Tony captive is to exact retribution for Tony’s murder of Daz’s mentally challenged twin brother, Damo. In an admittedly murky plot device, the torture session kicks off with Tony being forced to watch documentary footage of his crime—footage that the Gallaghers, by luck, had acquired.
Using the perversion of the documentary angle as part of Tony’s punishment is one of the film’s strengths. The constant staging of photos of the victims with their captors is creepily effective. They’re reminiscent of the disturbing pictures of prisoner humiliation at Abu Ghraib during the Iraq War. Adding to the ick-factor is the fact that Tony’s cameraman and audio person are forced to assist with the “project.” Derek will pause during some of the more excruciating moments to reposition the microphone, or bark stage commands like, “Are you getting this?” to the terrified crew.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must say that I am not a huge fan of films featuring the abject misery of the helpless, subjugated victims of an all-powerful captor. For me, it is too much like shooting fish in a barrel. I think it’s a difficult style to work in because if the story and characters don’t click, all that’s left is the spectacle of the torture. Don’t You Recognise Me? partially sidesteps this problem by focusing the energy of the film on family ringleader Daz. What makes him worth the attention is that for all of his anger and cruelty, his most outstanding characteristic is that he is so irretrievably damaged by the loss of his twin, Damo.
Luckily, Mr. Travers delivers a livewire performance. No matter how awful his actions are, he humanizes Daz by always keeping his anguish bubbling just below the surface. He has a lot of heavy lifting to do because, from the halfway mark on, the film is practically a one-man show. More on this double-edged sword later.
It is pretty clear from the onset that Tony is doomed, but the Gallaghers want the most horrible punishment possible, which is to make him actually experience the family’s pain. So it makes “revenge” sense that Tony is taken for the final inquisition to a room where he confronts his own blood-soaked brother Frank. Here another Gallagher, a hammer–wielding masked hulk called Babyface (Jason Figgis) enters the film, and things go pretty much in the exact direction that you would expect the rest of the way.
The filmmakers do their best with an obvious micro budget to keep the tension building, but there are a few problems. One is the overuse of Michael Richard Plowman’s throbbing soundtrack. A lot of scenes just don’t need it, and it feels at times like it is trying too hard to create a sense of foreboding when nothing is really happening on screen. Another problem is that Daz’s electricity really has no one to play off of. Tony’s character is too thinly developed. Director Figgis seems content to let him retreat into a stoic victim’s shell. And with the rest of the cast seeming to give way to Travers in scene after scene, the rants begin to get monochromatic.
Despite these complaints, there is a powerful idea presented a few minutes before the end of the film. Tony suggests, after the Gallaghers have finished with his brother, that they are finally even. Grabbing Tony’s face, Daz says, “We’re not even. We’re not close to even. Even doesn’t exist.” To me, “even” is code for closure, for some kind of peace. The real horror takeaway in Don’t You Recognise Me? is that it doesn’t matter if the Gallaghers turned Tony in to the police, put him through the wringer in that warehouse, or simply shot him dead on a street corner, even really does not exist. And because the pain of the Gallagher‘s loss can never die, the futility of revenge is revealed.
I think the most exciting work happening now in horror is coming by way of low budget independent productions. Films as wildly diverse as The Babadook, It Follows, and The Witch all have found an audience. But in horror, of all genres, we know that the misses far outnumber the hits. I think that Don’t You Recognise Me? is a flawed film, but one that has several good things in it. It is a serious effort, and it makes me curious to see what Jason Figgis might produce in the future.