I'm so annoyed that I have to pan Captivity, the horror film we've been hearing about forever that's finally arrived in theaters. The reason I'm annoyed is because I'm a fan of horror, the more extreme the better, and I couldn't be less on the same page as the Nikki Finkes of the world, who think that even working for a publicity firm that does business on behalf of a film like Captivity makes one morally bankrupt. So let me reiterate: I'm not one of those critics who would slam a horror film for being horrifying. I could conceivably write a glowing review of a movie where the lead actress is gang-raped by a group of angry coal miners, gives birth to a two-headed rape baby, and then is forced to eat that baby moments after delivering it. What I can't get on board with is directorial incompetence, which Captivity is, sadly, overflowing with. A retarded gorilla with nervous bowel syndrome could have done a better job of directing this film than double Oscar-nominee Roland Joffe, it seems.
The film drops us into its situation with next to no foreplay: a popular actress/model named Jennifer Tree (Elisha Cuthbert) is kidnapped during a night out at a club. An unknown party slips something into her drink, she stumbles into an out of the way area, and the next thing we see is her waking up in a makeshift jail cell that's presumably located in the kidnapper's basement. A lot of torture follows -- editing-room torture. Someone was clearly worried that audiences would be bored by extended takes of a woman sitting alone in isolation, so the movie makes the most awkward jumps forward in time, going from having Cuthbert's character being alone in her cell to being suddenly strapped to a gurney while a hooded figure walks around her in circles, ominously. Important information is lost in the cuts, like where the kidnapper is coming from, and what avenues of escape that could present the heroine. The film is so devoid of establishing shots that we have to accept the torture scenes on a nightmare level.
The tortures inflicted on Cuthbert are elaborate, but never really life-threatening or injurious, except to the psyche. At one point, she is made to watch as the kidnapper drops severed ears and eyeballs into a blender, making a gore shake, which he then feeds to her through a funnel. Later, she's almost buried alive by a rain of sand from above -- almost. (In fairness, the non-lethal nature of the torture does make sense once the film's secrets are revealed) One thing that's never adequately explained, though, is why the tortures are so sexless -- why would anyone go to the trouble of capturing a gorgeous woman and then keep her fully-clothed? Still, my main complaint about the torture scenes is how poorly staged they are; the jarring cuts and non-existent pacing allow no opportunity for dread to build up in the audience and the whole thing telegraphs itself as the result of some bastard compromise with the MPAA -- "we'll shoot all this horrible stuff, but we'll shoot it so incompetently the audience won't really know what they're seeing."
The plot moves forward a bit when Cuthbert discovers that another cell adjoins hers, with another captive in it. A pane of crudded-up glass separates them, and they have to scratch away the crud the same way you'd scratch off a McDonald's game piece for a chance at free French fries. Once they are able to see into each other's rooms, this provides opportunities for 'boo moments' as the kidnapper suddenly appears in one or the other's cell, allowing one person to yell and scream while the other is menaced. It's during this part of the film that we get the biggest directorial screw-up: after one of the characters is strapped to a gurney and has a wisdom tooth forcibly removed, the film immediately -- immediately -- cuts to a scene of the two captives having sex. Huh? Did I miss about fifteen minutes of the film somewhere? Shouldn't one of these people be writhing in agony on the floor, spitting blood and cursing the day they were born? Could someone please go back and actually direct this movie?
The third act is a litany of yawn-worthy cliches, from the gun that doesn't work when it's inconvenient and then works when it needs to, to the one where a diminutive female physically kicks the ass of a muscular man who towers over her. I fear that particular one isn't going to go away anytime soon, even though it never gets any less ridiculous. Eventually, the movie ends and you're left to assess the damage. As far as Cuthbert goes, I've always thought she was an interesting actress and the movie doesn't really do anything to lessen my opinion of her, but no actress can overcome directorial sabotage, and it has to be said that for most of the film, she comes across as confused about exactly what's going on as we are. You can't blame her for that. As for Joffe, he should be demoted to production assistant. Captivity was interesting as a phenomenon -- the marketing gurus behind the film should have a long and interesting career ahead of them -- but as a film, it's borderline-unacceptable.