When you think the worst has happened…
Yes, Captivity is that movie that caused a stir upon its theatrical release thanks to a bunch of billboards that featured lewd, graphic images. There. I mentioned the big controversy. Now can we please talk about the movie itself?
Jennifer Tree (Eliza Cuthbert, 24) is an up-and-coming fashion model whose face is all over the city on various advertisements. One night at a party, she is drugged and abducted. She awakes in a large underground chamber recreated to look like her apartment. Her unseen captor then unleashes a series of bizarre tortures and experiments on her. Just as all seems lost, Jennifer learns she is not the only one trapped in this subterranean nightmare.
Captivity is one dark, bleak, mean-spirited movie. Even before Jennifer is abducted and ruthlessly tortured, her life is joyless, as she stares off into the distance sadly while applying her makeup. At a highbrow party, the only person sitting by her is her dog. So the story begins with Jennifer already separated from the rest of the world. Instead of steel basement walls, she is trapped behind her makeup and clothes, the image that the rest of the world sees of her. This disconnect is reinforced after Jennifer wakes up in her makeshift cell, where a large photo of herself hangs over her bed.
Of course, once Jennifer is a captive, all manner of awfulness is fair game. Her captor, represented by a black coat and black rubber gloves, puts her through the wringer. When she does not do what he wants, her room is flooded with bright lights and loud noise. On a routine basis, she is drugged and taken to a second room where, strapped to a chair, all sorts of physical and psychological horrors await.
Does that mean this is grueling, gut-wrenching terror, the kind you have to watch through your tear-stained fingers? Yes and no. Certainly, a lot of what Jennifer goes through is horrible, including a scene in which she has to drink…well, let’s just say it’s something no one would ever want to drink. The problem is, there’s really no rhyme or reason for these acts inflicted on her. The torture scenes are just being mean for the sake of being mean. The Saw movies, for all their faults, at least have the villain trying to teach his victims a lesson of sorts. The villain of Captivity is just jerking the victim around for its own sick amusement. That might sound like a scary concept, but it ends up unsatisfying, story-wise.
Look at it this way: When Darth Vader chokes a rebel to death and throws the poor guy against a wall, is it just his way of saying, “Check out how awesomely evil I am?” No. It’s because he’s after those Death Star plans, and he doesn’t care who he has to choke to death to get them. In Captivity, though, the villain does sick, evil things for no reason other than to be sick and evil.
Now, if you’ve ever seen a horror movie before, then you know that the tables will eventually turn and Jennifer will fight back, etc., and that’s the predictable case here. Fans of movies like this say they are not necessarily about the violent scenes, but instead that they are “survivor tales.” They’re really about the victim finding the inner strength to fight back. The bonus features on this disc reflect that, in which director Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields) says this was an intention of the film. But when there is no real reason for her captivity, Jennifer’s fighting back feels just as hollow and unimportant as all the struggles she goes through.
So here’s a movie with a gritty, claustrophobic feel, all sorts of shocking depravity, and a female hero who proves that she’s more than just a vapid bimbo. And yet, instead of being scared or getting caught up in the dark drama of it all, I am instead left to ask, “Why should I care?”
The story might be severely lacking, but this is one pretty-to-look-at movie. It fits the classic definition of a “grotesque,” in that there is beauty in its ugliness. Despite the cramped, dark setting, the set design, lighting and colors will take your breath away. Notice how the lights in Jennifer’s cell shift and change color to reflect the captor’s mood, or his reaction to her. And although the majority of the movie takes place in this one setting, it’s a very busy setting, with a lot of hidden doors and little surprises tucked away in the walls. If you’re a true cinematography junkie who’s just in this for the pretty pictures and doesn’t care at all about plot or character, you might dig Captivity.
The widescreen image on this DVD perfectly shows off all the grotesqueries (more on that below) with amazing clarity. The sound is powerful and rich, making the most of the music and Eliza Cuthbert’s many loud screams. Extras consist of two featurettes that are mostly self-congratulatory, but they do reveal how filming the movie entirely in Russia was a risk that paid off nicely, thanks to the talented and dedicated crew the producers were able to assemble there. A few deleted scenes and trailers for other upcoming releases round out the package. The controversy over the ad billboards is not mentioned.
Perhaps if the script had gone through a few more revisions, and if the writers had taken the time to hash out what they really wanted to say, we might have had a new horror classic on our hands. Instead, it feels like they hoped for a commercial success, as torture is supposedly the big fad in fright these days, and this is their attempt at cashing in on it. If you’re a scary movie buff who simply must see everything ookie, then give this one a rental. For everyone else, I’m sad to say you’re not missing much.