The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom likes to play with genre expectations. The opening credit scroll is reminiscent of the recent wave of found footage/this is a true story films that overtook horror for quite a few years. The throwback 80’s period styling and sense of humor feels like the rise of meta-horror in the 90s. The focus on Laurie’s total inability to leave the house and ensuing paranoid breakdown is a modern spin on Repulsion, only with a better understanding of how mental illness, specifically agoraphobia, actually works.
The premise is simple, but the execution is anything but predictable. The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom documents the last 72 hours of the title character’s life. She is a young agoraphobic who lives with her mother and is left to fend for herself while her mother attends a work convention. Her symptoms are so bad that Laurie uses a claw grabber to drag delivered groceries into the house. Strange things start happening indoors and Laurie begins to lose any sense of control she once had.
The thing to know about The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom is that it is clearly a low budget effort. The writer/director, Mark Dossett, plays one of the characters in the film, Sheriff Parks. He’s also the voice over actor for many other characters, as well as cinematographer, editor, production designer, art designer, and sound mixer. Lead actor Shannon Scott (Laurie) plays another onscreen character, provides voice overs, and is also a producer, the set decorator, and the assistant camera operator. The credit scroll reveals the project is a huge family affair with many Dossetts and Scotts down the line.
If that credits scroll didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have thought so few people were responsible for this film. The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom is smart low budget horror. Dossett knows where to put the money and where to rely on the audience to fill in the details. The big gore set piece is represented by a closeup of one small part of a much larger injury, then referenced with a larger amount of makeshift bandages in later scenes. I actually applaud the restraint used throughout the film in describing some of the more grotesque elements. The actors onscreen are more than up to the challenge of selling the horror without showing torn up bodies.
There are so many clever scare sequences defined by what Laurie is watching on TV or listening to on her stereo. In one sequence, a late night viewing of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon turns into the beats for one of Laurie’s first bizarre outbursts. She thinks she notices something in another room out of the corner of her eye. Her actions sync up to sound effects and dialogue from the TV as she grabs a fireplace poker and sneaks down the hall to confront whatever is awaiting her in the bedroom.
It has been quite a long time since I’ve seen a horror film where I wasn’t quite sure what was really going on until the end. Dossett’s screenplay and editing actually finds that perfect balance between haunted house, paranoia, and home invasion scenarios. Is there something supernatural going after Laurie? Is she just not coping well with being alone in the home and hallucinating? Or is there really someone else out to get her for the second time in her life?
A screener of The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom was made available for this review by writer/director Mark Dossett.