The Gig is a small "people" film. It's about a bunch of middleaged amateur musicians who play a couple hours of jazz, in their own homes, about once a week. Suddenly, they are given the chance to play a gig, for real money in a real resort. Despite initial misgivings, they go for it, and get a chance to learn what the world of professional music is really like. Torment, on the other hand, is a suspense film about two women, one a cripple, trapped in a deserted house with a mad killer. Not an awful lot of plot similarities.
What distinguishes both films is that they take unpromising situations and make much more of them than I expected. The mad killer genre has been hacked to death by Halloween clones, but Torment manages to breath some life into it by avoiding the excesses of slasher films and adding a few neat twists. The Gig takes a plot which sounds dull, but manages to make it really fly by treating the characters like real human beings and avoiding pat solutions.
The characters from The Gig appear to be stereotypes, at first glance: one moderately sleazy used car salesman, one momma's boy, one jealous husband, one sullen outsider, etc. However, The Gig goes beyond the stereotypes to find real people behind them. Characters prove to have a lot more depth than you would first think. Coupled with a gentle sense of humor, good pacing, fine performances, and well written lines, this quality makes The Gig consistently entertaining. It's only problem is that it is not a "big" picture. No high drama, no screaming comedy, just real people doing real things. Many viewers, conditioned by a form of film inflation, tend to treat such films with a "so what?" attitude. Since the universe isn't saved, the film can't be important.
Torment, being a genre film and having a clear goal (to keep you on the edge of your seat), doesn't face this problem. It does have the problem that it was made on a very low budget, and it shows. Some shots have the shadow of the microphone boom showing, the photography is mediocre, the script needed some polishing. More importantly, the low budget probably prevented the directors (Samson Aslanian and John Hopkins collaborated on both script and direction) from extracting as much suspense as they might have, due to a constrained shooting schedule. Also, the younger woman in the plot is stupid to the point of feeblemindedness.
On the plus side, Torment manages a great deal of tension at many points, and does it with a minimum of gore. There is some blood, and one brief scene which features a fairly mild bit of explicit nastiness, but nothing couldn't be shown on television today. Aslanian and Hopkins realize that the major means of building suspense isn't by showing the audience what happens, but allowing them to imagine the possibilities. Torment also benefits from a couple of good performances, Eve Brenner as the plucky, paranoid older woman, who can barely walk, and William Witt as the madman. Witt's part is nicely handled. Rather than being an unstoppable killing machine, he is a dangerous man who wobbles on the edge of sanity, frequently falling over on the wrong side. He may not be likeable, but he is definitely human.
The cast of The Gig is also to be commended. Wayne Rogers is good as the somewhat sleazy leader of the group, who makes up for his seaminess by being a true leader and, on the whole, a true friend. Cleavon Little does very nicely as a professional musician called in to replace the group's bassman. Joe Silver has some funny moments as the aggresively Jewish owner of the Catskill resort, and Andrew Duncan, Jerry Matz, Daniel Halbach, and Warren Vache fill out the parts of the other band members quite well. Each develops a recognizably human character, abetted by Frank D. Gilroy's script and direction.
I recommend both Torment and The Gig to those who might not otherwise see them. Of course, if you don't like suspense, no matter how well done, then there is little point in seeing Torment, and if you demand importance and high significance in your films, The Gig may disappoint you. Torment has only suspense to offer, and The Gig only ordinary people living out a modest dream.
I would imagine that the vast bulk of people reading this would never go to see either of these films. They would be lost in the shuffle of better publicized, higher profile films. Maybe you already have missed these two movies, as they are opening regionally and may have already come and gone from your city. I would like to suggest a little experiment to you, though. The next time that you want to go out to the movies, and you have no preconceived idea of what you want to see, go get your local paper, and look through the ads. Try to find a film advertised which you have never heard of, which doesn't have a huge, full-page ad, which doesn't feature a lot of big-named stars. (Avoid the obvious gross slasher pictures, teen sex films, and martial arts extravaganzas. These genres have their winners, too, but rooting them out is better left to their fans and fools like me who see almost everything.) Instead of seeing one of the major studio films playing around town, go see that obscure film, instead. Sure, you may wind up seeing Cavegirl or Rad, but you might equally well see Trouble in Mind, or Turtle Diary, or Choose Me, or Torment, or The Gig. Believe it or not, your chances of seeing a worthwhile film are just as good, if not better, than if you had gone for one of the big studio films. Try it some time.
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