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‘Triggered’: In darkly funny horror film, some won’t survive an explosive game of Survivor

Millennial friends find themselves wearing time bombs and doomed to kill or be killed.

Liesl Ahlers and Steven Ward play two of the millennial campers who wake up strapped into time-bomb vests in “Triggered.”
Samuel Goldwyn Co.

“Man, you’ve gone all Jason Bateman on me!”

“You mean Patrick Bateman, you idiot, from ‘American Psycho.’ ”

“Then who’s Jason Bateman?”

“He’s from ‘Arrested Development.’ Jesus, you ARE an idiot.” — Typically self-aware pop culture exchange between two characters in “Triggered.”

You know that insurance commercial where the dimwitted young people are racing through the woods, trying to escape from a masked killer, and they eschew the running car in favor of hiding behind the chainsaws? The nine desperate millennials forced to play a deadly game of Survivor deep in the woods in “Triggered” aren’t quite as dopey as those insurance-ad protagonists but they’re just as shrill and irritating, and there comes a point in this darkly funny and explosively bloody horror story where you’re not exactly rooting for everyone to survive.

Director Alastair Orr embraces the premise of films such as “Battle Royale” and “The Hunger Games” and adds some slices from the “Saw” films to a cliché-riddled, all-too-familiar formula that nonetheless works in large part because the characters KNOW they’ve been dropped into a horror movie but are still powerless to do anything to avoid the usual mistakes, whether it’s splitting up when the best thing to do would be to stick together, or going behind each other’s backs and to make some really bad decisions in the heat of a confrontational moment.

“Triggered” kicks off with a gruesome murder with the unknown killer claiming, “You left me no choice,” and then cuts to nine early twentysomethings who are having an impromptu high school reunion of sorts by camping in the woods. (Uh-oh.) Leisl Ahlers is Erin and Cameron Scott is PJ and Paige Bonnin is Amber and Michael Lawrence Potter is Bobby and Reine Swart is Rian and Suraya Rose Santos is Shay and Russell Crous is Kato and Kayla Privett is CeCe and Steven Ward is Ezra, but I gotta tell you, it’s so dark and some of the characters are so thinly drawn, there were times when it was a bit of a challenge to distinguish Erin from Amber or Kato from Ezra. (Especially because every last one of them becomes less and less sympathetic as the body count grows.) There’s a lot of bantering and bickering and sexual innuendo and early seeds of distrust being sown, and they all lament the death of their friend Caleb, who overdosed at a party in high school.

When the group wakes up after a night of serious debauchery, they’re all strapped in irremovable time-bomb vests, each vest with a countdown clock showing how many minutes left. And who strapped them into these vests? None other than Caleb’s dad, Mr. Peterson (Sean Cameron Michael), who believes someone in the group deliberately killed Caleb and wants his revenge. Mr. Peterson explains the rules: if you kill someone, you’ll inherit their remaining time. Only one will survive, so good luck! And then he blows his brains out.

The father (Sean Cameron Michael) of the campers’ dead friend takes credit for putting them in a deadly predicament.
Samuel Goldwyn Co.

That all happens in the first 15 minutes or so. The rest of “Triggered” is all about these nine so-called friends frantically trying to figure out a way to disarm the vests or find a loophole in the game — and when that doesn’t work, let the killing begin. “In horror movies, when people split up, that’s when they die,” says one of the survivors, to which his friend replies, “Yeah, but in horror movies, the bad guy isn’t, you know, all of the good guys!”

There’s a lot of running and shouting and double-crossing and triple-crossing, punctuated by crazy-funny B-movie dialogue, to wit:

“You don’t want to kill me.”

“Yes I do.”

“That’s the herpes talking!”

And then there’s the moment when a guy who might be about to die says to his tormentor, “I knew you were a psycho when you didn’t cry at the end of ‘Terminator 2.’ ”

Words to live, and perhaps die, by.