Stress Position is taut and blackly comic

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Starring A.J. Bond and David Amito. Rating unavailable.

On one level, Stress Position melds the high-concept stylishness of creepy Canadiana like Cube with the torture porn of Saw. A caveat: in this case the punishment is almost all psychological, but somehow more disturbing because of that. As someone points out in the film, pain torture was long ago proven ineffective.

But what makes this outing from writer-director-actor A.J. Bond so impressive is it’s also so much more than that.

A discussion about Guantanamo Bay has led two film buddies, Bond and David Amito, to make a bet: each has seven days to try to “break” the other in a cell (no real pain or illegal acts allowed), with $10,000 at stake. The twist here is that they’ll also be making a movie out of their experiment, allowing Bond to confuse what’s real and what’s fictional.

It also allows him to play on larger themes. There’s the defence of tortures like sleep deprivation and waterboarding by American authorities. There’s also the cruel dynamic between a controlling auteur and his actor. Then there are all the metaphors about how friends can sometimes be your worst enemies. The fact that one of these characters is gay and the other is straight adds more complexity.

After a jovial, slightly gimmicky beginning that finds the friends joking about their bet, things get surreal fast. What awaits the cavalier, overconfident Dave is a white, stud-walled cell that looks borrowed from Stanley Kubrick’s nightmares. At the centre of the glaringly lit room is an ominous, pointy metal sculpture. The silent forms that enter and exit the cell wear white hazmat suits and horrifying fold-out white-screen masks that are part flying nun, part origami monster. Other torments await: flashing lights, a slow-spinning carousel, and—worst of all—videotape of Mina Shum cutting up David’s acting ability.

The look is severe and artful, with a little retro sci-fi thrown in, a vibe upped by Dan Werb’s synth-heavy score.

To give away much more about this taut, blackly comic little exercise in intensity would be unfair.

Rest assured, though, it’ll expand your notions of what torture is—and who your friends are.

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