Now in theaters
Elisha Cuthbert as Jennifer Tree
David Gillies as Gary
Pruitt Taylor Vince as Ben
Laz Alonso as Di Santos
Michael Harney as Bettinger
Directed by Roland Joffe
“Captivity” may be the first film in history that is more famous for its distribution and promotion trouble than anything else. Shuffling release dates, questionable billboards, even the premiere party drew the ire of the MPAA. Now the film is finally here. There’s no way it could live up to its controversy, but is it at least worth all the trouble?
No. Not in the least. One might even go so far as to wish the MPAA had successfully kept the film from being released at all.
What passes for the plot of “Captivity” concerns Jennifer Tree (Cuthbert), a model/actress who is kidnapped and held hostage in a typically dirty and dark basement. After a couple (and highly repetitive) escape attempts that result in her being re-captured, gassed unconscious, and “tortured” (i.e. pretending to melt her face off), she discovers another prisoner in the room next to her. His name is Gary (Gillies), and over the course of a few more escape/catch/gas/torture sequences, they supposedly fall in love.
To discuss the “plot” any further may be considered a spoiler. The twist occurs around the halfway mark or so, and isn’t really all that surprising, but for what it’s worth: SPOILER ALERT.
We then learn that Gary is not a prisoner at all, and is in fact the mastermind behind the whole thing. After they spend the night together, he leaves her in bed and goes upstairs as the audience presumably gasps. A few cutaways reveal that Jennifer is just the latest in a long line of girls that Gary has had kidnapped and subsequently killed. But, as is always the case in a survival horror movie, our heroine is NOT like the others, and thus the tables begin to turn.
In theory (very, very weak theory anyway), it’s not a bad idea for a film per se. But what could have been an interesting psychological thriller, or at least a decent enough popcorn flick, is instead just a boring mess. For all the uproar about the film degrading women, there is actually surprising little violence in the film (and after the opening sequence, it’s nothing you wouldn’t see in any action movie). Cuthbert’s tour of duty in the “House of Wax” left her more battered and broken. And what does happen to her is not only pointless, but boring.
In the “Saw” films, for example, the torture scenes were a bit extraneous, but at least the villain’s modus operandi was interesting enough to justify them, and the scenes had the unusual pedigree of being self-inflicted torture. Not the case here, as neither Gary nor his brother (Pruitt Taylor Vince) ever give any real reason for what they are doing. The closest we get to a motive is that Gary doesnât know how to hit on women the right way due to (presumably) being molested by his mother, but what that has to do with making a shake out of body parts and blood and forcing Jennifer to drink it is beyond me. And since the twist is revealed relatively early, and isn’t remotely surprising anyway, one must wonder why they didn’t just “reveal” Garyâs identity right from the start to the audience, and then squirm as Jennifer begins to confide and fall in love with him. It would have been the closest thing the film had to an original idea.
The other problem is that we are never given a reason to like Cuthbert’s character. She is kidnapped three scenes in, and all we learn about her in that time is that she doesn’t want to go to a charity event and has a dog. In fact, our sympathies are entirely with the little mutt, and given the film’s childish attempts to shock the viewer, you can pretty much guess what happens to the poor little thing. Sadly, this is the closest the film ever gets to genuine horror; and if nothing else you can’t accuse the scene of being boring (awful, yes, but not boring).
Everyone involved (Larry Cohen, Roland Joffe, even Courtney Solomon) is certainly capable of better, but the only real surprise in the entire film is that these talented people were capable of making something so wretched. Without a doubt, “Captivity” succeeds only in becoming the lowest point in an already below average year for genre films.