Nine people are drugged and wake up to find themselves in a house with a strange videotaped message. They are told they have to inflict pain on themselves in order to collect enough dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline to fill up the vials on the back of their necks. As the woman on the recording (Maria Olsen) puts it, “Pain will be your only way out of this house.” Ripping out the vials ends in death, as does not obeying the weirdo on the tape and filling up the vials like good little captives. As a fun bonus, if a person dies, his or her pain counter goes back to zero. Thus, they are left to try to work together to survive.
The characters are mostly likable. Despite being mostly white (natch), they’re surprisingly easy to tell apart. Basically they’re couple Tayler (April Matson) and Nick (Eric J. Beck) and their friends Kai (Elisha Skorman) and Tony (Akeem Smith), whom the movie opens with. Less importantly, there are guy who dies shortly after everybody wakes up, Tara, the standard slasher movie obnoxious character who should die first but never does (Maya Hazen), blond lady Lisa (Heidi Mueller), guy with a secret Greg (Rob Kirkland), and Michelangelo from the one of the newer incarnations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles–er, Sam (Greg Cipes). It’s hard not to imagine being in that situation, so the characters are easy to feel sympathy for. I felt particular empathy for Tayler, who is pregnant, especially since the first time I saw the film I was pregnant myself. Even Tara’s well-deserved comeuppance made me nauseated. I felt bad for my husband, who was on the computer with his back to the movie; to him the whole thing must have sounded like ninety minutes of hollering.
It’s kind of a silly premise, but the film is so dark that it works. The hormones being harvested are being used to make drugs, ironically painkillers (if you need a deeper meaning I guess you can read the movie as an allegory for the evils of Big Pharma). The gore is pretty thickly laid on, with little in the way of comic relief. Though I was amused at a character who, while figuring out how best to brutalize her housemate, asks, “Should I hit him with my shoe or something?” The film has a creepy vibe. The grotesqueries are unpredictable, and the house is decrepit and filthy and filled with potential weapons. The torture sequences are many, and they are sickening. I find movie characters in pain more tolerable to watch if they aren’t having an emotional reaction, but these folks are screamers and criers.
Overall, the film isn’t scary as much as graphic and disturbing. It’s not mindless gore or what I would classify as torture porn; the characters work together, and I find it an interesting psychological study of people under severe duress. If you’re a Tool fan, check out Maynard James Keenan as Special Agent Ford.