Saturday, July 14, 2007


CAPTIVITY (Roland Joffé, 2007)

Laugh if you will about old movie hucksters who tried to drum up business for their horror films through such schemes as requiring moviegoers to sign waivers releasing the studio from any liability in case the picture literally scared them to death. We might possess more media savvy today, but marketers still know how to sell the illusion of danger. The makers of CAPTIVITY, purportedly one of the most deplorable entries in the torture porn genre, have been relentless in courting controversy in the build-up to its opening

The Motion Picture Association of America reprimanded the distributor for billboards with graphic images that the ratings board did not approve, and producer Courtney Solomon promised a depraved premiere party. Any showman worth his salt knows that you sell the sizzle instead of the steak (if the latter even exists), so CAPTIVITY wasn't screened in advance for the press, leading potential gorehounds and scolds to wonder how repugnant the film might be.

Elisha Cuthbert stars as Jennifer, an actress-model who takes one sip from a drugged appletini and awakens to find herself held hostage in a darkened cell. When not playing with his victim, her black-cloaked captor sips wine and assembles his torture instructional in graphic novel form. Drug, abuse, rest, repeat. Eventually Jennifer discovers that she is not alone. Gary (Daniel Gillies) is in the chamber next to hers, and together they hope to find a way out of their worst nightmare.

For its first half CAPTIVITY buzzes by as a SAW clone that flirts with the prospect of ghastly things being done to Jennifer. Seen predominantly from the villain's view, the unpleasantness is portrayed as though it is a lover's pursuit. Unsurprisingly, this portion of the film has a misogynistic tone that suggests she deserves these punishments because of her beauty.

The horror is mostly psychological to this point, but there's an impending sense that CAPTIVITY could go to a very ugly place. Instead, it ventures into more conventional horror film territory. The first half isn't poetry, but it looks like it when compared to the second half's hoary clichés that even the laziest screenwriters should avoid. The only creativity on display is finding a way to include a sex scene in the most unlikely of circumstances.

But lighten up, right? Suspending disbelief is integral to films like CAPTIVITY. After all, the bad guy must possess phenomenal wealth and technical wizardry to create his death trap, but I will roll with it. (For all the outlandish fictional characters like this murderer, one real life example, the serial killer in the non-fiction novel THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, has yet to get the cinematic treatment.) The problem is that everything rings false or unbelievably convenient, including a key bit of old film shown in CAPTIVITY that simply could not exist.

The economy of characters limits the narrative twists, and lack of characterization fails to produce empathy for Jennifer beyond what would normally be felt for someone in her situation. Cuthbert is a limited actress, but she proved herself deserving of a scream queen crown in HOUSE OF WAX. In CAPTIVITY she's given nothing to work with to the extent that her moment of vindication comes off as perfunctory.

Reported revisions upped the gore from director Roland Joffé's original cut of the film. The pre-opening credits sequence is CAPTIVITY'S most violent scene and presumably something grafted on to make it more palatable to the HOSTEL crowd. In retrospect it's not only superfluous from everything that follows; it doesn't even line up with the evil perpetrator's motivation. But who needs consistency when the carnival barker's aim is to get people into the tent?

CAPTIVITY doesn't live up to the manufactured pre-release hysteria or approach the disreputable nature of other torture porn films. It's just the same old same old repackaged as the new worst offender.

Grade: D

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