This British revenge horror/black comedy is director Jon Wright’s debut feature length film, which arrived for classification by the BBFC in November 2008. It is set in a modern British comprehensive school, where the lonely and overweight outsider, Darren Mullet, has just committed suicide after constant, unbearable bullying. His tormentors are the ‘cool’ senior kids, one of whom befriends the seemingly perfect head girl, Justine. Not long after his funeral, students start to see Darren again – and he is determined to take his revenge. As Justine realises the full extent of the bullying, and gradually understands quite how responsible her new friends are, she is forced to confront her own, inadvertent involvement in Darren’s death.
The film stars several young actors that would be familiar to the audience from other teenage/children’s popular TV series and films, such as Skins, Grange Hill, Stormbreaker and Wild Child. With a bass-thumping, fashionable soundtrack, and the support of a very slick and quite darkly glamorous marketing campaign, the film is clearly aimed at a teenage market. The movie’s dedicated website contains links to all the main online social networking groups, including Bebo, which is generally considered to be aimed at younger children.
Not unsurprisingly, therefore, Tormented came with a 15 request. This resulted in the BBFC conducting three separate advice viewings during post-production, as the special effects and final editing were being finalised. Advice viewings are a service available to distribution companies who require an indication of what category a film is likely to achieve. The advice given is informal, and the BBFC reserves the right to classify a work at a different category once it is formally submitted in its completed version, as intended for release.
At the initial advice viewings, the quantity of strong language in the film (multiple uses of ‘f**k’ and ‘motherf***er’) established 15 as the minimum category. However, one highly aggressive use of very strong language (‘c**t’) gave cause for concern under BBFC Guidelines, as did the levels of horror and detailed violence.
Despite the overall fantastical, horror context of a teenager returning from the dead, the BBFC felt wary about such strong content appearing in the otherwise highly realistic, recognisable and contemporary setting of the high school, in the context of vicious peer bullying. Although, in some ways, the film is a traditional morality tale, it was felt that the film’s structure and conclusion allowed for little genuine sympathy for the character of Darren. There was some question whether the attractive ‘cool’ characters were actually being portrayed as quite glamorous, and that the anti-bullying sentiment was not sufficiently strongly expressed to undermine their likely appeal to younger viewers. It was therefore difficult for the advice viewing examiners to credit the stronger, and more sadistic or seemingly salacious content with much contextual, ‘educational worth’.
Examples of activity that took the advice versions of the work beyond the 15 category, and were subsequently cut or edited during post-production to achieve the requested classification, included:
- sexual bullying of the naked victim in the school showers
- the sexualised and bloody killing of a partially naked boy - who is dragged from a car where he is having sex and repeatedly stabbed in the groin with a broken bottle
- later, clear close up sight of the bottling victim’s severed penis in a bloody condom
- explicit, close up detail and focus on a screwdriver being pushed into a boy’s palm and slowly withdrawn, and also into his neck, with copious resultant blood flow
- extended focus on two pencils deliberately driven up through a boy’s nostrils, penetrating his brain and killing him.
It was only on the fourth submission, of the finally completed work, that the film was formally examined and passed 15 for ‘strong bloody violence, strong language, sex and sex references’.
The final, 15 rated version of the film still retains strong elements that place it at the upper end of the category. The strongest violence includes the screwdriver stabbings, and the suggestion that a boy is killed by having pencils stuck up his nostrils before his head is slammed down on them. Though strong, after careful editing the sequences no longer dwelt on the infliction of pain and injury or on blood which would have pushed it to 18. Other gory scenes (such as blood spurting from severed wrists, an eye popping out of its socket, and a fatal impalement through the chin on railings) were mitigated by low budget (and fairly unconvincing) special effects, or a clearly humorous presentation – similar to scenes in other 15 rated horror works such as Hot Fuzz and Severance.
The film also contained some sex scenes and sex references. These included the sight of some older pupils undressing each other (no clear sight of explicit, sexualised nudity) and opening condoms, followed by the thrusting of buttocks in sexual activity. As the sexual detail and nudity is fairly limited and modest in such scenes, and the actors portraying these characters were all clearly 18 years of age or older, there were not felt to be any potential issues under the Protection of Children Act 1978.
Sex references include frequent, strong, often crude verbal remarks about anal sex, erections and penetration, and sight of coarse graffiti and mobile phone icons moving in an explicit fashion. However, these were all felt to be well contained at the 15 category required for the violence, as the BBFC Guidelines for sex at 15 state 'Sexual activity may be portrayed but without strong detail. There may be strong verbal references to sexual behaviour'.