The once popular "torture porn" genre, commonly described as such by its dissenters, flirts with bottoming out in "Captivity." The film is vile, unpleasant and gruesomegranted, three adjectives the producers would no doubt reward themselves for achievingbut unlike 2004's "Saw
" and 2006's "Hostel
," for example, this one has no apparent message to get across or point to make. It exists for the sole purpose to churn stomachs, although, curiously, it isn't even very effective on this visceral level. Some inventive individual moments aside, "Captivity" is off-puttingly derivative, clumsily written, and would have never seen the light of a theater projector if not for the financial success of the "Saw
In a role that gives her a lot to scream and cry about but no actual character to work with, Elisha Cuthbert (2005's "House of Wax
") stars as Jennifer Tree, a supermodel-actress who is unknowingly being stalked and videotaped by a mysterious assailant. When a stop at a nightclub leads to her being secretly drugged and kidnapped, Jennifer wakes to a nightmare decidedly far worse than going out in public without make-up or having a bad hair day. Trapped in a room and elaborately toyed with when she isn't being strapped down to a surgeon's chair and terrorized, Jennifer and fellow captive Gary (Daniel Gillies) must figure out a way to escape before they meet the same gruesome end as the multiple victims before them.
Director Roland Joffe has had a schizophrenic, in some ways mind-boggling, career. Oscar-nominated twicefor 1984's "The Killing Fields" and 1986's "The Mission"Joffe followed these achievements up with a string of failures, the nadir unquestionably being the disastrous 1995 adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," wherein Demi Moore's adulterous Hester Prynne is suddenly and amazingly saved from execution by a crusade of Indians on horseback. If that isn't pissing on classic literature, what is? "Captivity" is a step up from that by default, but one still has to wonder how such a prestigious director went from being honored by the Academy Awards to shooting scenes of poodles being blown into thousands of bits, teeth getting yanked out, and a woman being force-fed a pureed mixture of body parts.
To be fair, there are a few clever spins early onone unsettling scene finds Jennifer in a horrifically compromising position as she simultaneously witnesses another girl on videotape going through the exact same ordealand the movie moves from scene to scene quickly enough that one's interest is adequately engaged. In addition, the music score by Marco Beltrami (2006's "The Omen
") is so good it's downright Hitchcockian at times, and it can be guaranteed this is the only element of the film that will ever be compared to the original Master of Suspense.
Otherwise, "Captivity" is tedious in its reliance on repetitionthe fade-ins and fade-outs get old by the fifteen-minute mark; the multiple scenes of Jennifer being physically tortured are misogynistic and go nowhereand finally just plain harebrained by the second half. Characters do senseless things at inopportune times. A sex scene comes out of left field and is patently ridiculous. A crucial plot twist is easily guessed early on. Two investigative police officers who show up are more interested in watching sports on television than questioning the culprit on Jennifer's disappearance. Characters thought to be dead pop up for extra "scare" value. You know the drill. Elisha Cuthbert is put through an emotional whirlwind as Jennifer, but this bright young actress understandably doesn't seem to have her heart in it. At least she's competent; co-star Daniel Gillies (2004's "Spider-Man 2
"), terrible as Gary, can't even make walking from one end of a room to the other convincing.
If screenwriters Larry Cohen (2002's "Phone Booth
") and Joseph Tura originally set out to make a comment on the materialism within society and the value placed on beauty within the media, it got lost amidst the reported reshoots and recutting to insert as much violence and gore as possible into the finished product. These themes are vaguely suggested by the frequent clips of Jennifer presenting herself as shallow and vain on talk shows, but they do not add up to anything substantive. When "Captivity" ends, the viewer is not enlightened, or scared, or thrilled, or provoked. It's an inferior and desperate project that merely rides the coattails of better, similar films.