Published Apr 18, 2014Consider how we use the word "torture" in everyday conversations. That bad first date: torture. That meeting: torture. Waiting in that long line: torture. "Torture" has been dulled by misuse and overuse. We use it with cavalier abandon. We barely bat an eyelash when we hear about Guantanamo Bay as we quietly equate torture with something unpleasant but quotidian.
Where some people see a modern artwork and say, "Oh, I could do that," A.J. and David (A.J. Bond and David Amito), in Canadian indie Stress Position talk about Gitmo and say, "Oh, I could do that… better than you." Cocky, superior A.J. thinks he could reason with and eventually outwit his captors. David thinks he would be the only one of the two able to survive Guantanamo Bay without "losing [his] mind on a permanent basis." They make a bet wherein they get to psychologically torture each other for seven days, the goal being to extract a code that validates a $10,000 bank transfer.
Filmed in an effective, disorienting, faux-documentary style, the majority of Stress Position features David as a prisoner in small white room with a strange metal sculpture at its centre. We see A.J. and Marguerite (Marguerite Moreau, a.k.a. Connie from The Mighty Ducks) making a film about breaking David while breaking David. We see her pushing A.J. to create something "real." We see A.J. attempting to balance his desire to win with a seeming addiction to control.
As such, Stress Position is a film that's overtly about torture, but actually about identity. Breaking someone is a test of willpower and self-discovery; not breaking is a test of willpower and self-discovery. The reasons we have for breaking people inform the ways we go about breaking them, and the reasons we break are arguably more interesting — articulated clearly by the film's wonderful climax and denouement.
Stress Position is an attractive, inventive, creative film well worth seeing. The torture is disturbingly real because it's not over-the-top unreal — imagine being strapped to a playground carousel and being turned, slowly, for hours — and the needling, claustrophobic score by Dan Werb (Woodhands, Ark Analog) amplifies every iota of the prisoner's discomfort and tosses it, wet with vernix, into the viewer's lap.