Monday, July 30, 2007


There are some movies that just don’t live up to the hype. Roland Joffe’s Captivity is one of them.
Even as gorno became the horror genre’s whipping boy, billboard ads for Captivity (which tells the story of the abduction and torture of fashion model du jour Jennifer Tree, played by 24’s Elisha Cuthbert), apparently unapproved by the MPAA, went up in New York and Los Angeles this past March. The billboards—which featured four panels depicting Cuthbert in the stages, Seduction, Confinement, Torture, and Termination—attracted a firestorm of controversy, and were subsequently pulled down.
Thus did Captivity become “the movie they didn’t want you to see!” (Or so the trailer put it following the billboard incident.)
As it is, there’s probably more excitement in the hullabaloo of that run-in with the MPAA than can be found in the film itself.

This is a limp and tepid exercise in thrills, and the twice-Oscar-nominated Joffe (for directing The Killing Fields and The Mission) never manages to raise the tension level above the slow simmering that runs through the film’s entire course. There is one brief moment, about an hour into the film, when something happens that could make you wonder, “Okay. So where are you taking this?”
Past that point though, the film settles back into its slothful zombie shuffle and sort of just shambles off towards its uninteresting climax.

Nothing really quite works in Captivity.
Once you get past the initial sense of discomfort and unease at the idea of abduction, things settle into a sense of humdrum tedium that never fully leaves the premises, like an unwanted, overstaying guest.
And while Jennifer is tortured (largely a psychological ordeal; despite appearances, this film is hardly gorno), the bits of police procedural interspersed throughout the proceedings seem lackadaisical, as if Joffe were begrudgingly giving us these scenes because that was expected of him. It doesn’t help that Michael Harney and Laz Alonso, who play the detectives, aren’t exactly the Oscar types either.

Additionally, the identity of the mystery abductor is immediately obvious to any film geek. (And if you don’t instantly identify the abductor when you get to see the eyes, pay attention to the abductor’s actions.)
Thus, not only is there no tension, there is no real mystery either.
So that’s bad enough. But the film also chooses to leave the abductor’s psychology a complete blank to the audience. By movie’s end, we have no frakking idea why all this happened. We get no sense of the abductor’s past, of the presumed trauma that caused this much psychological damage.

And ultimately, Captivity is also the kind of movie that doesn’t seem to have a point at all.
Certainly, this is not entertainment.
A: I would not call a bad movie “entertainment.”*
And more importantly, B: The reality of abduction and torture and murder is hardly “entertainment.”
Even with films as dark as the first Saw and Hostel, there were points to be made, and skill and savvy used to tell the tale. Captivity seems to have none of these.
There is a brief brush against the class divide, as Jennifer is made out to be a rich b!tch who has no real idea of how the other half lives, as well as some babble about the only real things being what you can touch, but these ideas don’t really go anywhere, trapped in the dreary hollow of this film the way Jennifer is in her cell.
And though it was apparently Joffe’s intent that Captivity be about “female empowerment” (the common PR spin for horror movies that have women running about and screaming and being stalked by unsavoury, would-be killers), I really don’t see that.
And even if the whole female empowerment aspect managed to escape me somehow, even if it’s actually there, hiding under the bed or in the crawlspace, it still wouldn’t change the fact that it’s contained in a drab and uninvolving film.

At the end of it all, Captivity just doesn’t seem to be worth the time or the effort to actually sit down and watch it.
It’s not exciting, it’s not thrilling, and it doesn’t have anything important to say. (Yes, I am aware that these things happen. All I have to do to know that is watch the news. I don’t need an uninspired horror movie to make me aware that we live in very troubled times.)
It doesn’t even have the gore.
All it really does have is Elisha Cuthbert in peril, and we already saw that on 24 Day 2, and in the House of Wax remake.
And on that note, I’d have to say that watching either is a far better prospect than enduring Captivity. (Yes, even if Paris Hilton is in House of Wax. Not only does House of Wax have an interesting climactic sequence as the eponymous house melts in a raging fire while the principals are still in it, but if you need added incentive, there is the opportunity to cheer madly when Paris gets iced. Come on, admit it. You want to.)

* Unless of course, it falls into the MST3K/so-bad-it’s-good territory, in which case, you can’t beat that kind of entertainment.
Captivity clearly does not have a passport or VISA to enter said territory.

(Captivity OS and billboard ad image courtesy of

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