The only thing Tethered is tied to is a bad time.
Miles from civilization, a monster stalks woods that are inhabited by a mother and her blind son in Tethered, a horror flick that desperately wants to be the next Quiet Place but whose biggest issue is that it doesn’t know how to stay quiet, period. The feature directorial debut from Daniel Robinette is a case study in how an omnipresent score can sap a film of the tension it so desperately craves. The fact that its main protagonist is without sight should have been an obvious motivation and inspiration for the film’s sound design, an emphasis on the various creaks, wails, and howls that make up the soundtrack of the forest itself. One need look no further than something as well-known as The Blair Witch Project for proof, which conjured discomfort and unease with the simple snapping of a twig off-screen. But without fail, Robinette opts for musical bombast — courtesy of Matt Vucic — that is nothing more than generic dissonant strings accompanying ominous shots of the woods, because these woods are scary, okay!
Of course, an argument could be made that all of this sonic bravado exists simply to hide the fact that nothing much of interest is ever happening in Tethered, an 87-minute feature that contains barely enough story to fill a 15-minute short. As the movie opens, a sickly mother (Alexandra Paul) and her young son, Solomon (Brody Bett), are seen inhabiting a small hovel on the edge of a sprawling forest, living off the land in a way that recalls any number of futuristic dystopian tales but which here seems like simply a choice. The visually-impaired Solomon is forced to tie a rope around his waist that will forever — wait for it — tether him to the homestead; every once in a while, mom and son will venture into the woods and the mom will randomly look startled. That could have something to do with the peculiar howls occasionally filling the air, although they are usually obfuscated by the unrelenting score, so it’s tough to really be certain. One night, mom walks out the door of her own freewill and never returns, leaving the viewer with a lot of questions, like why would she drag her blind son out to the middle of nowhere and abandon him if she knew there was a monster stalking the premises? Is the housing market in this area that bad? Cut ahead ten years, and the young Solomon (Jared Laufree) is now a teenager living a life of routine, literally — still waiting? — tethered to this place he calls home, an obvious metaphor with which this film does absolutely nothing. Before long, a stranger appears in the woods, a former soldier named Hank (Kareem Ferguson), who takes it upon himself to stay with Solomon for a few days and provide him with food and companionship. But our friendly neighborhood monster doesn’t take too kindly to the presence of new blood, and soon the lives of Solomon and Hank are placed in jeopardy.
That synopsis unfortunately casts the proceedings as far more exciting than how they play out, an exercise in half-assed cinematic edging where the climax hinges on a plot twist so inane that it raises far more questions than it actually answers, leaving the viewer both unsatisfied and borderline angry. Robinette is by no means a terrible filmmaker, but there is nothing of interest visually here, no moments of tension or dread, simply repetitive shots of swaying trees and Laufree looking off into the distance, his eyes adorned with milky-colored contacts that look more painful than anything else. Ferguson delivers a performance that’s roughly fifty shades of awful, although the overly stiff and mannered dialogue, courtesy of Aaron Sorgius, certainly doesn’t do him any favors. Much like its protagonist, Tethered is simply stuck, roped to an idea that makes its success nearly impossible, and its crushing solemnity a weight its genre shape is unable to shoulder. Even a blind man can see that.
Published as part of Before We Vanish — March 2022.