Triggered (2020)

Triggered first published by

“We all did fucked up shit in high school,” says Ezra (Steven John Ward) in Triggered, directed by Alastair Orr (From A House On Willow Street, 2016) . “No one here is innocent.” 

Nine former school friends have an impromptu reunion, camping out for the weekend “literally in the middle of nowhere”. Along with tents and tools, their baggage includes petty rivalries and erotic betrayals – and a deep dark secret that one of them harbours about the death, years earlier, of their teenaged friend Caleb. Ultimately that secret will tear this already dysfunctional group apart, as they all wake up to find that their old science teacher – and Caleb’s father – Mr Peterson (Sean Cameron Michael) has trussed them up in explosive vests with timers, and wants them to play a game. The rules are simple: if your timer runs out, ka-boom; if you die before the timer runs out, whoever is closest to you gets your remaining time added to theirs; and ultimately only one person can survive. 

If a life-or-death scenario that pits young people against one another seems familiar from Battle Royale (2000) or The Hunger Games (2012), then rest assured that, for all its derivativeness, Triggered wears its influences on its self-conscious sleeve, having characters expressly reference the Saw movies, Lord of the Flies, American Psycho, John Wick and even Terminator 2. Its self-awareness does not stop there: for when Peterson tells the nine millennials, “Shut the fuck up! Jesus, you’re all so annoying!”, he is only giving voice to what we are all thinking – and the spectacle of  these unlikeable characters meeting their bloody demises at each other’s hands (or axes, or knives, or mallets, or guns) forms part of the uneasy pleasure on offer here for the viewer, whose own sadism and sociopathy are also being provoked here, at least vicariously.

When push comes to shove, most of these supposed friends are quick to remove their masks of civility and to reveal themselves as liars, traitors and keen psychokillers. Normally, as Ezra puts it, “in horror movies, the fucking bad guy isn’t, you know, all the good guys.” Yet as the countdown to death ticks ever lower and the survival instinct kicks in, if there are ‘good guys’ at all, there can still be just one by the end, making everyone here an antagonist. 

So Triggered offers a deeply cynical, Darwinian portrait of human nature in extremis – and no matter how close these characters come to their mortality, the formative trauma of their school days is never far behind. 

Strap: Alastair Orr pits nine twenty-something friends against one another in a vicious Battle Royale-style game of death

Anton Bitel