Captivity

2007, Movie, R, 85 mins

Review

CAPTIVITY
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If critics offended by the rise of the horror-movie subgenre derisively tagged "torture porn" need a prime suspect to haul before a morality court, the first 20 minutes of this brutal kidnapping thriller from Roland Joffe (the fiend who cast Demi Moore in the 1996 adaptation of THE SCARLET LETTER) should do the trick.

Successful actress/model Jennifer Tree's (Elisha Cuthbert) pretty face can be seen plastered across buses, billboards and magazine kiosks all over New York City. But she's also the unwitting target of a stalker who's been surreptitiously filming her, and who one night follows her to a SoHo hot spot where he spikes her apple martini. When she comes to, Jennifer finds herself imprisoned in a cinder-block cell (there's a tropical scene projected across one of the walls — a nice touch) furnished with a bed, a sink, a toilet, a bank of metal lockers, and most disturbingly, racks of clothes taken from her apartment. Her captor remains unseen — he communicates through note cards placed in a sliding metal drawer that pops out of the wall along with her food — but he manipulates her into donning sexy outfits by subjecting her to punishing bright light and piercing white noise. Every so often, he fills Jennifer's prison with a narcotic gas that puts her to sleep. When she awakens, she finds herself strapped into some terrible torture device that threatens to inflict terrible pain and destroy her face. Simply taking Jennifer's life would be much too merciful.

Joffe's film gained a lot of advance notoriety thanks to a particularly savage — and ultimately banned — ad campaign that featured pictures of a terrified young woman and four brutally simple words: "Abduction. Confinement. Torture. Termination." The first half of the film unfolds with such stark single-mindedness — there's virtually no dialogue, aside from the usual "Who are you?! Why are you doing this?!" — you begin to fear that it just might live up to those billboards' terrible promises. But despite the sharp look and a script cowritten by often-inventive genre auteur Larry Cohen (GOD TOLD ME TO, PHONE BOOTH), the premise owes too much to the likes of Yasuzo Masumura's excellent BLIND BEAST (1969), John Fowles' The Collector and lord knows what kind of illicit porn to feel original, and there's a midpoint twist that viewers could see coming with their eyes closed. There is, however, sufficient self-awareness at work here to make it of some interest to fans and critics alike (the villain keeps a scrapbook of his exploits containing such resonant theoretical observations as "Desire is the mother of invention" and "Death: That's where the buzz is"), making CAPTIVITY quite possibly the final word on a much-maligned genre. Jennifer Tree (Elisha Cutherbert) is a successful actress/model whose pretty face appears plastered across buses, billboards and magazine kiosks all over New York City. She's also the unwitting target of a stalker who's been surreptitiously filming her, and who one night follows Jennifer to a Soho hot spot where he spikes her apple martini. When she comes to, Jennifer finds herself imprisoned in a cinder-block cell (there's a tropical scene projected across one the walls -- a nice touch) furnished with a bed, sink, toilet, a bank of metal lockers, and most disturbingly, racks of her own clothes taken from her apartment. Her captor remains unseen -- he only communicates with Jennifer through note cards placed in a sliding metal drawer that pops out of the wall along with her food -- but he manipulates her into donning sexy outfits by subjecting her to punishing bright light and piercing white noise. And every so often, he fills Jennifer's prison with a narcotic gas that puts her to sleep. When she awakens, she finds herself strapped into some terrible torture device that threatens to inflict terrible pain and destroy her face. Simply taking Jennifer's life would be much too merciful.

Joffe's film gained a lot of advance notoriety thanks to a particularly savage -- and ultimately banned -- ad campaign that featured pictures of a terrified young woman and four brutally simple words: "Abduction. Confinement. Torture. Termination." The first half of the film unfolds with such stark single-mindedness -- there's virtually no dialogue, aside from the usual "Who are you?! Why are you doing this?! -- you begin to fear that Joffe just might live up to those billboards' terrible promises. But despite the sharp look and a script co-written by the often inventive genre auteur Larry Cohen (GOD TOLD ME TO, PHONE BOOTH), the premise owes too much to the likes of Yasuzo Masumura's excellent BLIND BEAST (1969), John Fowles' The Collector and lord knows what kind of illicit porn to feel at all original, and there's a mid-point twist that anyone you could see coming with your eyes closed. There is, however, enough self-awareness at work here to make it of some interest to fans and critics alike (the villain keeps a scrapbook of his exploits containing such resonant theoretical observations as "Desire is the mother of invention" and "Death: That's where the buzz is."), making CAPTIVITY quite possibly the final word on a much-maligned genre. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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