Captivity is a slightly older movie (2007), but it sparked my curiosity when I read all the mixed reviews it had received, depending on which version of the movie audiences commented on. The original movie was more psychological thriller than horror, but the studio decided to milk the torture porn frenzy that was going on at the time (remember, these movies were at their peak in the mid-2000’s) and re-shot, re-cut and basically re-vamped the entire film.
I was unsure which version I was about to watch, which gave the experience an added level of suspense. It turned out to be the tamer version, which, judging from viewers’ descriptions of the added gory scenes, I was definitely not upset about.
On the plus side, Captivity is one of those confinement movies I usually enjoy, taking place in a cellar where Jennifer (Elisha Cuthbert, still reaping the success of 24) is abducted, held against her will, and forced to endure a variety of psychological torture. [The entire setup in the beginning reminded me so much of PLL Season 5 that I can’t help but suspect it was the inspiration for the entire doll house plot line.]
Our heroine is a model/celebrity who gets lured to a party and kidnapped by a mysterious stranger, who keeps her in a cellar equipped with several personal items he stole from her home. While terrorized by this person, she realizes she’s not the only one down there: a man is also being kept in the adjoining room, and soon they form a bond. Their escape plans foiled by their evil torturer, the two become close before we reach the big reveal at the end, which I guess qualifies as a semi-twist.
The premise alone would have been promising, if not for the many plot holes and loose ends. I would be more lenient about my criticism had I watched the torture porn version, but this one didn’t suffer from studio interference, which means the blame lies solely on the writer and director. One thing I can’t really fault is Cuthbert’s performance, which is pretty much on par with every scared victim/final girl we’ve come to expect of the genre.
For one thing, we get a pretty terrifying scene of a man being tortured and killed in the beginning, which not only sets up absolutely nothing, but also has zero payoff throughout the movie; it feels like it belongs in the unrated version of the movie, in which case it would have set the tone for the rest of the torture; in this case, it offers absolutely nothing. Whatever time we spend watching this poor man get tortured by his mysterious captor would have been better used as exposition to explain who the previous female victims were (we see their names on videotapes towards the end of the movie) and why they were chosen to participate in this twisted game in the first place. Hell, making the opening scene’s victim a girl rather than a guy would have helped prepared us for what fate awaits poor Jennifer, but no, it’s definitely a man.
For another, the whole setup of the cellar is a big contradiction. Jennifer is surrounded by her personal items, which are supposedly there to make her feel at home, yet – as is revealed in the end – the captor’s plan is to exploit her biggest fear and make her feel isolated. She is forced to wear pretty outfits every day, presented to her in lockers numbered to correspond to each of the four days she’s held in the cellar, but there’s no explanation for it (other than the abductor is a sick voyeuristic f*ck) or for the significance of the four days. [All I kept thinking when I saw her change into cute dresses and shoes was there’s no way I’m wearing heels in a dungeon, especially if I’m trying to escape.] More to the point, her torturer is trying to make her feel cut off and isolated but has no problem allowing her to make friends with her neighbor-captive – which is explained by the twist in the end, but would have made the reveal more of a surprise had contact between the two been effectively hindered – or at least not encouraged – at least initially.
Even more baffling is the actual “game” itself: although carefully planned, along with the cliché scrapbook favored by deranged sociopaths such as our villain, its purpose seems to be nothing more than the twisted sexual appetites of her captor(s). Even in such iconic torture porn as the Saw movies, the game has an actual purpose, sick though it may be.
To wit (spoiler alert): Here we get a good looking guy, who should normally have no trouble getting girls to sleep with him, concoct an elaborate plan to gain his victim’s trust and get intimate with her, while his less attractive brother watches. Seems like a whole lot of trouble for just a romp in the sack with someone just before they kill her. His brother’s motives are even more confusing: why limit himself to just watching everything go down? What pleasure does he derive from seeing his brother seduce their young victims? Obviously psychopaths don’t really need rhyme or reason for the sick things they do, but the story would have been much more powerful had this entire plot device not been so superficial.
Having said that, mindless violence (physical or psychological) packs more of a punch when it seems random and pointless, even if it doesn’t really add to the story, so I’ll give it a pass.
Although successful in portraying the claustrophobic feel of the cellar and the psychological and sensory torture Jennifer is forced to endure, various elements of the movie seem like they were haphazardly thrown in without adequate explanation, or attention to detail: never before have two siblings looked less alike; never before have two cops arrived at a suspect’s home with fewer clues to point them in the right direction and without backup standing by (or at least on the way). Also, the kidnapper randomly leaves notes in greek, and a decidedly non-Greek cop can read it? Yeah, no. (Also: the note is misspelled, which you know just drives me insane). And seriously, if you’re going to take the trouble to throw in a couple of weird clues in another language, at least give them some significance! Instead, the note is quickly dismissed as the kidnapper’s way of toying with the police, and never mentioned again. And don’t get me started on the sex scene: when you’re being held against your will, tortured and monitored by cameras, the last thing that would flare is your libido, and the last thing thing you’d want to do is give your captor a good show.
To top it off, much like the entire movie, the big reveal doesn’t really come as much of a shock. The dialogue alone during Gary’s time with Jennifer is a huge tip-off, even before we see him sneak upstairs to prepare dinner with his brother; telling her to imagine her lover touching her as a way to calm her down? Please. However, it is still baffling when Gary turns against his brother and stabs him in the gut, seemingly out of nowhere; not because it’s such a huge leap to imagine why he’d feel differently about ending the game since he’s formed a bond with Jennifer. But without any insight to what happened with their previous victims, it’s hard to understand what exactly is about her that makes him change his mind. It also happens way too suddenly to make it plausible; had we witnessed any sort of consistently oppressive behavior towards Gary, it might have explained why this was his only option. Here we just see Gary murdering his brother to save Jennifer from the fate his previous victims met, without any background information to explain his choice.
The random clichés in the final scenes – presumed dead villain giving us a final jump scare, victim quoting the captor’s line as she turns the tables and kills him – don’t really do the predictable ending any favors, but it’s a solid effort at building suspense, despite the various loose threads and plot points that are introduced only to be abandoned later. The closing scene, however, is as cliché as they come, and ultimately underwhelming.
I feel like I would have been more forgiving if I’d watched the torture porn version. When the movie’s entire point is shocking the audience with violent scenes, plot holes can be easily ignored (especially when said plot holes are due to cutting scenes in favor of adding in others). When we’re dealing with a psychological thriller, however, every detail matters, and unfortunately this element didn’t quite deliver. Still, it wasn’t a terrible movie – just not really up to scratch.