Five friends return home from a marriage in Canada to the United States. Not far from the border, two customs officers stop them to check their identity. When the officers observe that one of the men is of middle-eastern origin, things quickly escalate to the point of no return, and the friends come to learn the full truth about, 'Homeland Security'....
Trust the French to be the only film-makers with big enough cahones to explore the horrifying infringement of rights that happens under the noses of Americans every day.
Right of the bat I'm gonna state that TERRITORIES, is essentially a true story. I wish to god it wasn't, but it is. The characters may be fictional, and the setting of the film may be rather trite in a time when 'lost in the backwoods', flicks are ten a penny. But this films message, and its intent, are entirely based in reality. The anguish onscreen is a very accurate portrayal of what the world knows to be going on in detention camps states-wide. The truly heartbreaking fact is that while there are only the lives of five characters being demolished by the state in this film, the real numbers are off the charts. As you suffer through TERRITORIES, you'll never once be swept off on fancy. Its brutally frank in its depiction of Guantanamo Bay, now closed, (Read : Relocated), and the many other hellish facilities where we lock our 'enemy combatants', without due process, trials or even reason. This is an important film. It's a film that demands you, the viewer, heed its message and take on board your complicity in the events onscreen. TERRITORIES is exactly the sort of movie western audiences need to be subjected to, to help shake off the hypnosis that they've been living under for so long. Viva France, indeed...
The simple and predictable premise is where the similarity ends to other genre pictures, as the film opens itself up to new methods and ideas, and makes some very brave, very intelligent narrative choices. This could, and will, be labelled a 'torture porn' movie, though it's anything but. There is very little onscreen carnage, no gore to speak of, and the one scene in which a graphic depiction of agony is portrayed, is actually among the most tender moments in the entire movie. It's an altogether rare moment of mercy in an otherwise merciless film. The reason the film hits so hard and so effectively is in its inherent truth. What plot exists is merely a microcosm of the current atrocities the western world passes off as acts of 'national security', and it's very hard as a westerner to not feel a sense of shame in what takes place. After all, we get the government we deserve.
While the violence onscreen is subtle, the horror in the message is coming over loud and clear. This is an angry movie, and a very righteous one. From the opening moment, when we meet our young cast, and realize one of them is of middle-eastern descent, you feel your gut clench up. At least you do if your anyone with half a damn brain. You know where this is going. You've seen it happen a thousand times before. On the streets, in the pubs, in the airports, (although now the TSA has decided we're all terrorists. Thanks for that, you fucks), and to a far lesser degree, on that bastion of mindless shit we call television. The kids are interrogated at the roadside, brutalised, and incarcerated for absolutely no reason, other than the inherent fear, and brainwashing, that the antagonists have succumbed to. It's immediately heartbreaking.
What occurs next is an accurate, though very much toned down, depiction of life in a detention centre. Its small scale, but its all there, in bare bones form. The dehumanisation, the breaking down of the psyche, the turning of man against his brother. The whole thing hurts to watch, and just when you think you can't take any more.....
Something changes. I won't say what, but the film morphs from one genre archetype to another. It's jarring, and at first feels unnecessary, but by the films end the whole thing makes perfect sense, and is actually the film's greatest strength. All I will say is that while we follow yet another character into a search for truth, that's equally as hopeless and futile as the search for 'truth' of the villains. The difference being, this guy's truth is real.
As for the characters. We get very little background on the captives, (which works perfectly in context with the lack of intelligence we have with those we willingly detain and torture, for no reason, each and every day), yet we come to care for them, through sheer force of compassion, and humanity. We see their strengths and ultimate weakness' as the 'detainment' unfolds. All the cast are exceptional. Maximum effect with minimal dialogue.
As for the captors, we learn a little more, mainly through observational cues, and hints at their pasts. These guys are every bit as human as the innocents they detain, yet are completely corrupted by the system. In a sense, they resemble the 'Frankenstiens Monster', created by the American Military Industrial Complex. The beast has been created, let loose on the world, and is running amok...and it's all our own fault for allowing it to occur. Shame on us all. Both actors are brilliant in the roles, and the main 'villain', played by Sean Devine, is bone-chilling. He's the perfect representation of wrapping yourself in the flag, committing atrocities in its name, and declaring yourself a patriot. Of note also, is another character who enters the fray in the films second half. I don't want to give his part away, but he's played with depth, and subtlety also. The entire cast appears to realise the significance of the message and raises their game accordingly.
TERRITORIES is a film that deals with the absence of light. Not only in its portrayal of the horrors the 'civilised' world inflicts on the innocent, but in its greater message,
that the light of truth is, sadly, rarely shone on the inhumanities of our governments. Its an important film, from a country that are notoriously fearless film-makers. Yes, the film is shot in America, for obvious reasons, but it's as far from American horror as your likely to see, without subtitles.
The film will most likely be labelled anti-american, or left-wing, or some such nonsense, (as will this review, no doubt), by those who don't enjoy looking in the mirror when it's held in front of them, but that's all just bullshit. This is pro-humanity and pro-truth. Burying one's head in the sand doesn't make the horrors pass us by, they effect and reflect on all of us. When all is said and done, and the film ends on it's quietly heartbreaking final scene, all that's left is the viewers contemplation, and many won't want to even entertain the truths it portrays. I almost feel sorry for those people....almost. Don't be one of them.
8.5 De-humanised Soldiers our of 10