Captivity (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

When it comes to movies, I am not a crusader. Rarely do I find the content of a motion picture objectionable on ethical grounds. Then again, films as morally repugnant as Captivity don't come along too often (thankfully). There is no requirement that a feature leave a viewer feeling good about himself, the world, or anything else. Cinematic endeavors should not, however, send audiences home in search of a shower to skim away a slimy, degraded feel. I can't state with certainty that watching Captivity represents the most horrific experience I have ever had in a movie theater - but next to it, Freddy Got Fingered is starting to look better by the minute.

Perhaps I never truly understood the term "torture porn" until watching this movie. The various demented killings, maimings, and other assorted indignities performed upon characters (most of them comely women) are designed with one objective in mind: to get people off. Make no mistake about it - this is masturbation material for those who enjoy this sort of thing. There are defenders who will argue that "this is only a movie," but there's something about the way the suffering is crafted that hints at darker and sicker motives. The industry will pander to any taste in search of a quick buck. Compared to Captivity, two other often-cited "torture porn" franchises, Saw and Hostel, come across as almost naïve. They may be equally soulless, but they don't relish the depravity to this degree.

The film is divided into two acts. The first one features stupid characters, bad acting, and reprehensible story elements. The second, shorter one is about as dumb as one can imagine (but at least the torture aspects are downplayed). Jennifer Tree (Elisha Cuthbert) is a top model in the Paris Hilton vein. Her face is everywhere but she feels herself alone and unloved (or at least she so declares to her dog). One day, a psycho stalker drugs her and carries her off to a dungeon where she spends some time being tormented and brutalized. Apparently, she's not the only captive. There's a guy, Gary (Daniel Gillies), in a cell next door. Together, they try to plan an escape but their captor sees and hears everything and no act of sadism is beyond his capacity.

Watching Captivity is like observing a 45-minute psychological rape. Rarely have I found myself so uncomfortable viewing anything over such an extended period of time. There's nothing redeemable here. It's not tense or scary; it's just demented. I'm sure there's an audience for this sort of thing, but I'm fairly certain it's not large, and I'm not sure I'd want to socialize with anyone who relishes what's on display here. Horror films are designed to push all kinds of buttons and to stretch envelopes, but this one crosses lines of decency.

Captivity might be bearable if it was well acted and told an interesting story, but it's not either. The performances by Elisha Cuthbert (the 24 refugee whose best-remembered moment involved a cougar) and Daniel Gillies (whose career high point was as Mary Jane's fiancé in Spider-Man 2) are so over-the-top that they would be at home in a straight porn movie. The screenplay has three levels: dumb, dumber, and dumbest. None of these characters (including the inexplicably hooded villain) are going to become Mensa members any time soon. They make the lobotomized caricatures of generic horror movies seem intelligent.

The biggest unanswered question is how Roland Joffé got involved in this mess. Personally, I think the real Joffé was abducted by aliens in 1986, after completing The Killing Fields and The Mission. The doppelganger who replaced him is the one responsible for Super Mario Brothers, The Scarlet Letter, and Captivity. Still, there's no justification for Captivity. Not even Uwe Boll would sink this low. And, yes, there are times when the film looks good, but all that does is make the experience more vile. At least with a hand-held camera and grainy film stock, it might have seemed less intimate.

There are those who will call Captivity misogynist, and I can't argue with the label. However, I think it lets the film off too lightly - this movie is hateful to everything and everyone, not just women. It is contemptuous of its characters and its audience. If there is another challenger for worst entry of 2007, I don't want to see it.

Captivity (United States, 2007)

Director: Roland Joffé
Cast: Elisha Cuthbert, Daniel Gillies
Screenplay: Larry Cohen and Joseph Tura
Cinematography: Daniel C. Pearl
Music: Marco Beltrami
U.S. Distributor: Lionsgate
Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 2007-07-13
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1