Story and Screenplay Co-written by Larry Cohen
Since I’ve begun writing about films in which Larry Cohen was involved, I have largely refrained from doing any research into what went on behind the scenes of the productions. Because I have read so many interviews with Cohen, listened to his commentaries, seen question and answer sessions with him, etc., I have already known production stories for several of the films. In those cases, I sometimes referenced that knowledge in my reviews. But if I knew nothing about a film, I never went out of my way to seek out information on the production. I always prefer to write about the film as it stands on its own. Captivity finds me breaking that habit. I had to know just what thought process went into this wrong-headed, downright depressing piece of trash.
A supermodel named Jennifer Tree (Elisha Cuthbert) is abducted when an unknown villain drugs her drink at a club. She wakes up in a dungeon-like basement where her unseen abductor first psychologically tortures her by making her watch footage of another victim being melted with acid, shines bright lights accompanied by piercing noises, and plays snippets of TV interviews she has given where she sounds vacuous and unkind.
After a couple of days of this, Jennifer discovers Gary (Daniel Gillies), another abductee in an adjoining room, when they manage to scrape the black paint off a window between them. The abductor allows them to communicate, but listens in as they try to plot an escape. You can probably guess what happens from there.
The first hour of Captivity is probably the most depressed I have ever been made by a movie. It is not that the film’s story or tone is sad; it is more that it feels like such a mechanical, lifeless, piece of pandering junk. If it were pandering correctly, that would be almost acceptable. But by trying to turn what should have been a straight thriller into a rote piece of torture porn, the movie becomes an exercise in cynicism and insulting to those who the producers see as the audience.
After doing a little digging, I discovered that Courtney Solomon, the producer of the film, had purchased it after it had been completed independently. It was originally shot and edited as a straight psychological thriller (a term that I normally hate, but one complaint at a time). Supposedly seeking to cash in on the success of the Saw franchise and Hostel, Solomon convinced director Roland Joffé—yes, that Roland Joffé (The Killing Fields, The Mission)—to shoot several gross-out torture sequences and recut the film.
I get the feeling that Joffé’s heart was not in the reshoots, considering the massive continuity errors on display and the nonsensical way the new sequences were incorporated into the final cut. How else do you explain an opening murder—by means that are never really made clear—of a male victim when the villain only shows an interest in torturing and murdering young women for the rest of the movie? You can almost hear the producers behind the scenes saying, “Who cares? It’s bloody and a shocking way to open the film! Those stupid horror fans eat this shit up!”
The other torture and murder sequences are even more awkward and forcefully off-putting. In one scene, several body parts are pureed in a blender and force-fed to Jennifer. In another scene, Jennifer is forced to kill her own dog with a shotgun. There is the aforementioned melted-by-acid scene. This is all ugly, cynical violence that is presented with no sense of belonging in the movie other than to titillate an audience that Solomon apparently believes would be bored by a regular thriller.
But that attempt to goose the film into some sort of gorefest is cheap and makes me feel under-appreciated as a viewer. I love a good gorefest, but this is as far as you can get from even being competent, let alone good. Did Solomon—and, by default since he apparently played along, Joffé—have that little respect for their audience that they think they can just try to “out-gore” the other torture porn offerings in theaters without providing any reasonable context for those scenes? It shows a stunning lack of respect for the audience and misunderstanding of what films like the Saw series and Hostel did right to appeal to people. Solomon and Joffé’s plan, as it turns out, backfired on them. After hacking the film into something it should never have been in an attempt to be more commercial, the torture porn genre lost its luster a few weeks before Captivity’s release when Hostel 2 bombed at the box office. Captivity followed suit, barely making back a tenth of its modest budget.
Despite this rant, there is no evidence, from my viewing, that Captivity would have worked as a straight thriller. The film goes into goofy thriller mode at the beginning of the third act with a twist that is telegraphed long before the big reveal. This section of the film does work better than the hour of trash that came before it. But that is simply because there is finally forward movement to the story. The narrative twists come fast and furious down the homestretch and they are the only aspects of the film that bear Cohen’s fingerprints.
But no amount of plot twists can erase the ugly, attempted pandering of the hastily shot and inserted gore sequences from the first two acts. It doesn’t help that every badly constructed attempt at a jump scare is accompanied by a loud stinger on the score or that the cast seems largely indifferent to the film they are making. I get the feeling that this was simply a bad movie made worse by the useless cruelty injected into the reshoots.
The only thing left to say about Captivity is that it really is a thoroughly useless piece of garbage. I want back the ninety minutes I spent watching it.
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