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Top cover girl and fashion model, Jennifer Tree’s (Elisha Cuthbert) life reads like a hip-hop song—beauty, fame, money, bling and power. Then some psycho comes along and drugs her, kidnaps her, locks her in the basement, and does nasty things to her. Then she notices another captive in the room next to her and starts a shaky romance out of necessity.

Captivity: Unrated
Captivity will only be remembered in the annals of film for its controversial and ultimately failed ad campaign. When After Dark Films went against MPAA rules and posted giant billboards depicting the abduction and supposed murder of a pretty young actress, a bunch of bored tabloid types (and apparently Joss Whedon) expressed outrage, giving a cash-in exploitation flick infinitely more attention than the ads themselves ever would have. Fortunately for the Decency Police, July is a really stupid month to release a disturbing horror flick (you really can’t counter program something like Transformers, especially not with something equally juvenile), and the general public grew tired of the film’s constant attention, or their attention-grabbing crusade would’ve surely backfired.

It’s the Snakes on a Plane effect—the kids actually do get bored with hype, especially when marketable properties (like Transformers or Fantastic Four) are easier to get excited about. The Decency Police claimed victory against the evils of the so-called ‘torture porn’ sub-genre, and had a fine time patting themselves on the backs in various blogs, magazines and TV news shows. I am writing this before the marketable and recognizable Saw IV is released in theatres to what I’m sure will be a hefty sum, at which time the whole thing will start all over again, just as it has for centuries.

What I found interesting about Captivity was not its vulgar ad campaign or its inevitable box-office failure, but the people involved in its creation. Director Roland Joffé is a two-time Academy Award nominee, for his work on The Killing Fields and The Mission, his first two major motion pictures. His rather small filmography slid steadily down hill after his second nomination with the likes of Super Mario Bros., and The Scarlet Letter (the terrible Demi Moore one). One wonders what he saw in Larry Cohen’s rather lacklustre script, and why he’d want to jump on an obvious bandwagon at such a late date, under such a tiny studio. The saddest part though isn’t his involvement, but his direction, which mimics the already mimic-filtered styles of directors like Eli Roth and Darren Lynn Bousman, including some of the most obvious scares in recent memory. In his defence, almost all of the gruesome torture moments were studio imposed, and apparently some filmed without his input. This doesn’t, however, excuse the other hour and twenty minutes of STV dreck.

Captivity: Unrated
Writer Larry Cohen (who shares a script credit with Joseph Tura) is just spinning his creative wheels, as he has been for neigh on a decade now. In some interviews he’s called Captivity part of a loose trilogy he started with Phone Booth and Cellular. If that’s the case, that means Captivity is the last act, and hopefully he’ll move on to something more interesting, like maybe a sequel to Q: The Winged Serpent (a man can dream, dammit). This story is so by the numbers you could almost set your watch to its count down to the incredibly obvious third act ‘twist’, which is followed by another ‘twist’ in the last few minutes that’s even more obvious, and even more unacceptable given what little emotional investment we have in these characters.

Then there’s Elisha Cuthbert—an interesting, beautiful, undeniably talented up-and-comer. You’d think that the world would be her oyster, especially after the ridiculous popularity of the television series 24. She already paid her exploitation dues with House of Wax, so why would she star in Captivity? Was there some kind of blackmail involved? Ah, it was because she wanted to work with an Academy Award nominated director. Not the best choice Elisha, next time aim for Martin Scorsese or at least Ron Howard.

In the end the only shocking thing about Captivity is how boring it is. I didn’t love the Saw films (the two I saw), but at least I didn’t find myself looking at the clock every ten minutes. Most regular readers know I’m totally down with the depraved violence, and if a movie is grimy enough to make my gorge rise, the filmmaker should consider it a compliment, but nothing here got even a momentary clench in the gullet from me. Joffé fails to muster the grotesque excesses of Ruggero Deadato or Takashi Miike, or the pulpy charms of the Saw series. Captivity is flat and dull, with made for TV production values, and a distinct lack of charm. It isn’t even half as misogynistic or exploitative as the ‘experts’ would have us believe.

Captivity: Unrated

Video


Captivity starts off looking pretty sharp, with luminous colours, deep blacks, and high levels of close up detail. The scenes in of Jennifer and Gary in the villain’s subterranean dungeon lack some of the definition of the earliest scenes, but still impress with little noise and effective blacks. Then the action moves upstairs, and with the light comes the soft edges, the compression artefacts, and the overall loss of detail. Honestly, it’s kind of sad, especially after I was genuinely impressed by LionsGate’s Saw III and Condemned transfers.

Audio


I’m just gonna have to assume that most of Captivity’s budget went into this DTS track, which despite a terribly stereotypical score and some really obvious horror movie sound effects, is freaking gigantic. Every channel is loud and lively, surround effects are well pointed, and the bass track throbs without losing definition.

Captivity: Unrated

Extras


Apparently everyone involved was making a ‘psychological thriller’, and they keep using the phrase ‘genre movie’ (meaning horror) as if such a thing is beneath them. Roland Joffé keeps talking about the film’s ‘themes’ impressing him, leading me to believe that either the original script was much different than the final product or that he’s really good at talking himself into things when he needs the money. Though the behind the scenes featurette is a puff piece, it’s interesting to know that the entire film was made in Moscow. The Russian producers, I should note, look like real deal mobsters, and ultimately much more frightening than anything in the film. It’s also interesting to note that none of the film’s torture sequences are in this brief featurette.

The next featurette is a collection of fly-on-the-wall footage from the American re-shoots, and Joffé can be seen on set directing things, so apparently he did have something to do with the added gore shots. It’s interesting that the disc features no commentary track, and I’m assuming things didn’t end well between Joffé and the studios. This footage runs about thirteen minutes and is padded with footage from the film.

The deleted scenes, here in a very rough form, and including two alternate endings, will most likely bore even fans of the film. The footage mostly consists of simple inserts, which might have made the emotional arcs a little more believable, but they’re still quite dull. Apparently some of this footage showed up in the original European release. The disc is completed with a trailer and trailers for other LionsGate releases.

Captivity: Unrated

Overall


I don’t recommend Captivity to anyone—not fans of horror, or fans of psychological thrillers, Cuthbert, Cohen, or Joffé. It fails as a study of obsession, it fails as a gross-out horror flick, and it fails to keep me awake. Joffé knows how to point a camera and Cuthbert can still act, but adequate among awful is too little too late.


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