Horror films that revel in prolonged torture are often tedious because suspense thrives on there being at least an illusion of quid pro quo—a sense that the protagonists might actually have a chance of prevailing. Lingering on people who’re caged and powerless, while oppressors work them over, is dramatically static and often morally appalling. For such a film to justify its existence, a director requires a distinct sensibility as well as an aesthetic purpose larger than that of mere repulsion. In Rupture, director Steven Shainberg attempts to dress up torture-porn tropes with a late-inning switch to science fiction that spectacularly backfires: His film ultimately makes so laughably little sense that the mystery driving the narrative means nothing.
Rupture begins as a traditional story of a beautiful woman who’s kidnapped and tormented for our delectation. Renee (Noomi Rapace) is a single mother with a fear of spiders that’s obviously introduced to set up a future payoff. We see Renee from the vantage points of surveillance cameras hidden inside her home and we’re initially led to suspect Renee’s bitter ex—a development that might’ve taken the film in disturbing and resonant directions. Instead, Renee is run off a highway by goons, two of whom are played by Michael Chiklis and Lesley Manville, and taken to an underground facility that resembles a cross between Area 51, the Overlook Hotel of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and the red room of Twin Peaks. Along the way, Shainberg lingers on a scene in which Renee’s jeans are cut off her legs, so that she may soil herself with greater freedom in the truck taking her to her new prison—a form of humiliation that’s particularly intolerable and weirdly typical of torture porn.
Humiliation is a thread running through Rupture, which may be of service to auteurists who’re determined to connect it to Shainberg’s vastly more accomplished Secretary and Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. As in those films, there’s also an obsession in here with pain as an avenue to transcendence, which, in this case, is borrowed from the grotesquely violent French horror film Martyrs, which has a conviction and audacity that Shainberg can’t come close to matching. Martyrs also hinged on a startling genre transition, suggesting what might happen if Hostel were to suddenly become a modern tale of a Christ, while Rupture dares to suggest Hostel as reimagined as a cross between The X-Files and Fear Factor.
Rupture is driven by nothing except its big reveal, which leaves us twiddling our thumbs along with Renee for much of the running time, as she wanders requisite human-size ventilation shafts and asks questions that her tormentors are too coy and pretentious to answer. When she’s finally granted her explanation, you understand why the villains were so un-forthcoming.