Torture is the buzz theme for horror movies right now thanks to the success of the Saw series and followed up by low budget hits such as Hostel. With Captivity, we seem to be getting not just more of the sloppy seconds; rather it’s the leftovers from about three weeks ago. 24 regular Elisha Cuthbert stars in a film that takes the truly frightening set up of a famous model kidnapped, locked in a basement and subjected to a series of life-threatening tortures, then throws all the suspense away with daft twists turning any potential screams into laughter. It is hard not to wonder whether it has been switched with a comedy or spoof half way through.
The strong start sets up Cuthbert’s character, Jennifer Tree, very quickly. Plastered all over billboards, she is working a hefty schedule and when left unattended at a nightclub she is drugged, captured and locked away in a dingy basement converted into a prison. Her torturer has diabolic plans to push her to breaking point and director Roland Joffe gives us some nasty set pieces. Pouring acid over prisoners’ faces, the force-feeding of blended body parts and a shotgun-massacred dog were gruesome enough to send members of the audience rushing to the door. They needn’t have bothered worrying about their already wrangled nerves as the introduction of another prisoner (Gillies) pushes Captivity towards leaps of logic and continuity as horrendous as the initial acts of torture. As they plot to outwit the tormentor, bringing with it a brief moment of originality, so comes a ridiculous romantic subplot with cheesy lines such as Jennifer asking her fellow prisoner “What’s real?” to which he replies: “What you can feel”. It is thankful there is so little dialogue in this movie with these kind of enlightening moments in the depths of terror.
Joffe, director of respected films such as The Killing Fields and The Mission should have known better than accepting this turkey, or maybe he just needed to make a large mortgage repayment with the money he earned from it. Captivity promises to give us a thrill ride of suspense but only manages it for half-an-hour. Then the borrowed ideas from Saw, Hostel and My Little Eye start to fragment into what seems like multiple endings which have then been mashed back into one linear narrative that collapses under the strain of trying to contain it all. Joffe delivers on the unsettling atmosphere of dark, enclosed spaces and the soundtrack of abrasive noises to accompany even the slightest unexpected movement work well together. If only the script had been given so much care and attention.
As a horror/thriller trying to add another dimension to what has gone before in countless low budget American incarnations, Captivity feels like a cop out given its promising beginnings. As one contrivance leads to another and the loose ends start to pile up, the seriously disturbing turns laughably stupid. Even at 84 minutes there is a packing in of action as though we are supposed to have the attention spans of five-year-olds. That probably explains the climactic finale: it was probably written by one. Unless you enjoy seeing an interesting premise gone wrong, or are a fan of schlock horror, Captivity is a missed opportunity.
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