Frightfest 2020’s Triggered is probably the closest we’ve gotten yet to seeing a western remake of Battle Royale as a group of American high-school students wake up after a wild night of partying at a campsite with bombs strapped to their chest and there can only be one survivor.
With this in mind there isn’t anything particularly new, innovative, or ground-breaking about Triggered. The young group are the conventionally stereotypical group you’d expect to find in a film like this, with most of them proving unlikable, which, I guess, makes it easier to deal with when they inevitably get blown up or murdered by one of their former friends.
This isn’t particularly a spoiler because Triggered clearly wears its Battle Royale influences heavily on its sleeve, the graduated students are put into the ‘kill or get blown up’ situation by a disgruntled former teacher out for revenge, there’s a bitter-sweet love story and there’s one or two characters who prove to be more psychopathic and take to murdering their friends better than anyone would’ve thought – all classic moments we see from the iconic Japanese film.
But what it lacks in originality it makes for in being a really solid homage with differences and a decently entertaining gore-fest. Director Alistair Orr has a superb grasp of blood and guts with the film providing many grisly moments of throat-slashing, bodily mutilations and plenty of bleeding wounds and blood splatter, all often through excellent practical special effects work. For a film shot entirely in a forest campsite at night, it’s also excellently lit, avoiding that pitfall that some other night-time set horror films fall into of being difficult to see.
There are a couple of neat variations and twists in Triggered as well, the central premise that each person has a different time on their timer counting down until their bomb goes off and that you could get your timer extended by killing someone and stealing their remaining time is a great driving force for the character’s actions and the narrative of the film. Especially given that the initial set-up for the situation is deliberately left under-explained and we discover the rules of what’s going on as the characters do, avoiding an exposition dump taking place within the film, which works really well.
The suicide bomb vests themselves, and the illuminated 80’s video game screen timer and accompanying traffic light coloured warning lights are visually interesting and help provide some great visuals in the film. There’s one particular moment in the film where two of our characters are self-aware enough to block the light emitting from their vests to hide from one of their friends-turned-murderers, which I really liked.
Triggered also has a mean-spirited streak which I really enjoyed. Towards the end of the film, as its building towards the climax, it’s suggested there may be a way to disarm the bombs and prevent the need for the group to kill each other anymore leading the audience to believe this is how the film will end, but it’s a red herring. This is one of many moments during which narrative conventions are thrown out the window, the usual rules of good vs evil stop applying and the audience gets the rug pulled out from underneath it.
There’s also a sub-plot that plays out throughout the entire film surrounding the circumstances of the death of the aforementioned vengeful teacher’s son and whether or not someone in the group was more responsible than had previously been let on. While this worked as a means to set-up the situation, it doesn’t quite work as a film-long mystery, with the final reveal of what truly happened just not feeling as important or shocking as the very pressing issue of the bombs and survival.
The performances from the ensemble cast are all decent enough with some highlights being Liesl Ahlers as the innocent Erin who winds up in the wrong place at the wrong and Reine Swart as Rian, the super smart and resourceful policeman’s daughter. Both of these characters, and Steven John Ward’s Ezra, also have the benefit of being written fairly well in that they make smart decisions at the right times, often contrary to what genre fans might expect.
Russel Crous is also great as Kato, fully committing to the character’s full-on psychotic turn, which, while necessary to give our protagonists something to fight against towards the end, felt a little rushed and unearned. Especially when compared to Sean Cameron Michael’s Peterson, the initial villain, who does a great job with the limited screen time he has, and comes across as more believable.
Ultimately, Triggered is a really solid entry into the Battle Royale genre of films that offers you precisely what you want when going into a film that promises to strap bombs to teenagers, the gore is great, the story is passable and most of the characters are annoying enough that you don’t mind seeing them blow up! What more do you need!
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