With the Saw movies coming out at a rate of one a year (Saw IV opens October 26th) I wouldn't have guessed there'd be much demand for a rip-off as blatant and inferior as this one but here it is. Captivity reproduces Saw's basic plot components - a victim is abducted, locked in a dungeon and toyed with by a psychopath - but the elements that make the Saws distinctive and entertaining in their own way are missing - the colourful master-villain, his diabolical schemes, the gothic set design, the insanely over the top gore content. All Captivity gives us is an attractive woman being tortured by a nutter.
The woman is Jennifer (Elisha Cuthbert), a supermodel who's busy promoting her own brand of perfume. Jennifer's obviously not a very popular supermodel since she goes to clubs by herself, sits alone in the corner and then leaves on her own - which is how she ends up getting drugged and falling into the hands of the nutter. Once the drugs have worn off, she wakes up on a cot in a dungeon - an elaborate, electronically-controlled, booby-trapped dungeon. You know, the sort that movie psychopaths always seem to have the time, the money and the technical know-how to build for their victims.
Much of Captivity's first half is given over to alternating scenes of Jennifer acting rebellious in her cell and Jennifer being punished for her misbehaviour in nasty ways - being forced to drink a cocktail of blood and liquidised human eyeballs for example. I suppose these torture scenes represent the point of the movie. Captivity is more “torture porn”, or at least it means to be. It got into trouble in America for a poster campaign that sold it a little too openly as just that.
Torture afficionados shouldn't get too excited however. While there's enough here to disgust most moviegoers, Captivity pulls its punches, frequently showing us horrible things and then telling us what we just saw wasn't real. In the case of one particularly unpleasant scene involving a dog, I'm willing to bet the cop-out was inserted after test audiences complained that it was too much. But what's the purpose of cheating like that? It doesn't make the torture scenes any easier to sit through and it must surely ruin the film for the hardcore gorehounds who've come for this stuff.
I'm not against torture in horror films as a rule. I've had different reactions to different torture movies. I found the first Saw suspenseful and blackly funny; the sequels were far less involving but they still had the redeeming dark humour. Hostel genuinely horrified me and kept me glued to my seat. Paradise Lost bored me and disgusted me with its casual, pointless sadism (did it need to show a pretty, naked girl disembowelled alive?). Captivity simply bored me.
There's nothing groundbreaking here in terms of horror or gore, there's no humour and there's certainly no tension. For most of the film, there's only one character on screen and we can't sympathise with her much, mainly because she's played by Elisha Cuthbert, in a disastrous piece of casting. It's all but impossible to take Cuthbert seriously as an endangered female if you're familiar with her role as Jack Bauer's daughter in 24 - and I assume most viewers will be. As fans will know, Kim became a virtual parody of a damsel in distress, being menaced week after week by kidnappers, terrorists, survivalists, wife-beaters and hungry cougars. The show was threatening to turn into The Perils Of Kim Bauer before she was written out. Her subsequent starring in the slasher film House Of Wax only sealed the typecasting.
Maybe if Jennifer had been written well it wouldn't matter but she's virtually a non-character. All we ever learn about her is that she's lonely and she doesn't much like being tortured. On top of that, she keeps doing dumb things, like trying obvious escape routes when she already knows she's being watched and her abductor has thought of everything. Mostly what she does is scream and beg for mercy.
Things get a little more interesting when Jennifer is given a handsome male cellmate (Daniel Gillies), with whom she teams up and plots to escape. I say only a little more interesting because it's obvious where this is heading - so obvious, I correctly guessed the way the plot turned out just from reading a brief description in a magazine. One part I didn't guess was that she'd have sex with the guy in her cot. I guess being imprisoned and tortured for days gets a woman in the mood.
The most shocking thing about Captivity is its pedigree. This rubbish was co-written by Larry Cohen, who's made some of the most inventive exploitation films of the last thirty years. Q: The Winged Serpent is a great little monster movie and Phone Booth has a similar premise to Captivity but is a much more effective thriller. Cohen must have been having an off-day when he wrote this.
The real jaw-dropper is the identity of the director - none other than Roland Joffé. That's the same Roland Joffé whose first two films, The Killing Fields and The Mission, were both Oscar nominated for Best Picture and Best Director. Granted, his high-minded follow-ups (Fat Man And Little Boy, City Of Joy, The Scarlet Letter) weren't as well received but it's still a surprise to find him directing a dodgy Saw knock-off that's been lucky not to go straight to video. Joffé's next movie will be called Finding t.A.T.u., and yes it does involve the Russian girl-pop duo who became famous a few years back for snogging each other in their videos. Not quite The Killing Fields maybe but after Captivity, it'll be a step up.