We’re Watching Us: A “(T)error” Review

Your patriotic duty, it is.

There is something underhanded and sinister about hiring ordinary Americans to spy on ordinary Americans. It’s already murky territory, having officials spy on citizens, but fellow citizens doing the deed? (T)error, through an extraordinary scenario, lays bare this exploitative, manipulative and desperate practice. Who is more exploited? Who is most desperate? Which side are you on?

Post 9/11, there was a call to arms of sorts that asked us all to “report” any odd or suspicious behavior over the phone. By “odd” and “suspicious”, they meant “foreign” or, more specifically, “Arab”. To NOT be on the lookout for such “potential” evildoers made you, by default, Un-American. A guilt ridden, anxious and intimidated populace is not who I’d want to hire to do spy work…

… and yet, here we are.


“Gotta deal with it” says Saeed Torres, former Black Panther turned government informant, in reference to past transgressions. He takes several puffs of his joint, and lets the smoke consume him until his image fades away. Saeed is on an intelligence “mission”, which he has agreed to do for money he very much needs for his family. That, and it’s his J O B.

(T)error follows Saeed as he “infiltrates” a local Muslim community, in an effort to get close to his target — a young man who speaks his frustrations openly and freely — and deliver “intelligence” to his handlers. The access here feels almost without precedence, like we shouldn’t be watching what we are watching. The urge to look over your shoulder comes and goes; it really is a horror film in a sense. And a very scary one at that.

Saeed fell from grace decades prior, getting caught up in a scandal which led to his position as an informant. Now, old and bitter, he does what he can to support those he has left. If a life or two gets destroyed along the way, well, that’s just the way it is. He seems to have a “whatever” attitude to his own actions, as if he is completely justified and/or it’s the responsibility of someone else. When pressed further, he becomes annoyed. Still, the attention from the camera crew seems to make him happy. Makes him feel like a spy, like he matters. Or maybe it’s his way of getting this story out into the ether, to atone for the wrongs that he claims doesn’t bug him.

Most of Saeed’s business is conducted via text messaging and facebook researching. That is, both with his target AND his government handlers. This disconnect in communication suggests something scarier than the entrapment they routinely plot; an aloofness. A far and away aloofness. It makes you wonder about the true decision making process and who exactly is in charge of these operations. Though, not even that information would satisfy. Something about this smells of that machine William Burroughs would often write about. You know, CONTROL.

Is control controlled by its need to control? Answer — yes.

In (T)error, grand implications are made from simple actions. The actions of one man, the actions of a force of men and the actions of a camera crew. Implications like how this is but one of many incidents, or that our government is in the vulture capitalism game. We know these things, but not from the angles captured. Not from how this paper unfolds. It’s a special rarity of a film, that is able to stay focused and on point all the while ducking men in black suits.

Paranoia in the back, truth in the front.

Rating — ****

The thesis has been well explored, but not in this manner. Burroughs in your brain like a worm and scares you like a supernatural horror. Something needs to be exorcised.

Independent film critic. Progressive po’ boy, moviegoing romantic. SEFCA member, 🍅 - approved. Newsletter at moviesdm.substack.com

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