Stop me if you have heard this one before: Nine friends from high school meet up in the middle of a dense forest for a reunion camping trip. Significantly grown apart, their drunken revelry is stained by their antagonism for one another, where each seems to have a targeted, mean-spirited barb for the other.
They wake up in the middle of the night with explosives strapped to their chests and are tasked by a former teacher to kill each other for the sake of one’s ultimate survival. Prompted by the extraordinary circumstances, the closeted animosity that they all feel for each other inevitably boils to the surface, and they start letting it all hang out with murderous intent.
Alastair Orr’s Triggered (and, no, it is not a stand-up comedy special despite that title) is a steadfastly uninspired horror-comedy that wears its all-too-obvious inspirations on its shoulder like badges of dishonor. Not interested in thinking outside of the box, Triggered aims to hook you in with the premise alone and can’t be bothered to step outside of this well worn concept and stand out from other “friends become enemies in a sadistic game” films.
The question for a film like Triggered is what it is that filmmakers can do differently that we haven’t seen from the likes of Battle Royale, The Belko Experiment, The Hunger Games, The Circle or The Condemned (among others) to make the concept of “survival of the fittest” fresh and engaging. Triggered has a video-game-scoring concept, wherein the “contestants’” light-up vests make chiptune sounds and, with each kill, their time before the bomb triggers (Get it? It’s not co-opting the language of PTSD symptoms to be edgy at all!) goes up like a scoreboard. This is somewhat novel, but a ticking clock by any shape and design is still a ticking clock, and that is usually implicit in these kinds of films.
No, what Triggered does to stand out is to try its hand at filling out its dialogue with “topical” references and “provocative” jokes to transform a rudimentary thriller into a fascinating tonal anomaly. While the characters of this maniacal game of life and death are one dimensional and can be summed up by easy-to-remember dominant personality traits (including such classics as the smart girl, the musician guy, the stuck-up girl and the creepy guy), they somehow seem to always have a line at the ready for any circumstance.
Even when their former friends are staring them down with a bloody crowbar in their hands and an urge to kill written across their faces, everybody seems capable of cracking off a joke or two, like the script was polished at the last second by a contracted sitcom writer. These moments are incongruous at best and entirely distracting and derailing at worst because the clunkiness of their delivery, and wedging them into the script makes each joke land like a flashlight swung against the cranium.
When creepy guy Kato (Russell Crous) has musician guy PJ (Cameron Scott) cornered with an axe, they get into a back-and-forth about PJ mislabelling the character from Mary Harron’s American Psycho as “Jason Bateman.” When bland, good guy Rian (Reine Swart) finds one his compatriots bleeding out, he makes the definitely-not-outdated observation that he is “crashing harder than Bitcoin.”
Then upon learning about their life-and-death circumstance and the horrible things they are being prompted to do to survive, one of them chimes in that this is the “worst reunion ever!” And this is all without mentioning the times David D. Jones’ script tries to “go there” with some risqué humor. Perhaps, if this is your style of comedy, it will work for you, but these forcibly placed jokes behind a gritty horror veneer does nothing to accommodate it, and Triggered’s attempts at comedy rarely land.
And yet this film is a pretty easy recommendation. While the “so bad it’s good” moniker is always dubious and doesn’t really apply here, there is something compelling and admirable about how forcibly Triggered tries to be something more than its premise and how awkwardly it goes about doing so.
The tonal arrhythmia of its execution is fascinating to behold, and for all its edgelord posturing, it lacks the ability to truly offend or shock, thanks to questionable acting decisions on the part of the cast, who fumble with their one-liners, and an inherent identity problem of what Triggered ultimately wants to be. In that bizarre confusion lies a kernel of enjoyment.