In the wake of the underperforming The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, The Hills Have Eyes 2, and, most recently, Hostel: Part 2, the much-maligned sub-genre of “torture” horror (aka; torture “porn”, as the always moniker savvy media have dubbed it) has seemingly not only run out of ideas, but has also lost a large chunk of the audience that made it the short-term cash cow it had become. While the SAW films keep on rolling, thanks, in part, to the Rube Goldberg-style murder machinations of its antagonist, the current crop of torture-themed horror films have had much shorter shelf lives at the cinemas, with the only glimmer of hope being a quick turnaround on DVD. Preceded by a great deal of hostility thanks to a controversial billboard campaign, After Dark/Lionsgate’s Captivity looks to be yet another victim of audience fatigue with such films, although, despite my expectations, it’s a fate I don’t think it quite deserves.
The film opens with a man being fitted with a sort of full-head cast, strapped to a bed, and prepped for some sort of surgical bout of torture. We see tubes placed up his nose, a lab set of glass beakers and funnels, and, finally, a tipped over car battery pouring; its acidic contents flowing into a glass measuring cup. A pair of gloved hands pours the acid into the funnel, we follow it through the tubes and up into the victim’s nose, and, well, you get the idea. This opening all but assured me that I was settling in for yet another Hostel/Saw rip-off, and I stowed the note pad and pen, certain that I’d seen this story before, possibly twice in the last month.
The film quickly changes gears, however, with the abduction of Jennifer (Cuthbert), a celebrity model whose soul has been pretty much laid bare through a series of interviews her antagonist continuously streams to her cell; interviews and admissions that have gone a long way toward making her an ideal candidate for her captor. Jennifer soon discovers she is not alone, housed alongside Gary (Gillies), another recently kidnapped victim. With only a sheet of spray-painted Plexiglas separating them, Jennifer and Gary offer each other support and companionship that, under such duress, ultimately leads to attraction. Their captor seems to get off on this, providing Jennifer with sexy dresses and make-up, and allowing them moments of intimate contact. Is the union of Jennifer and Gary all part of the kidnapper’s game, or is there a much more nefarious plan at work?
While I saw Captivity’s twist coming for miles, I still found the film more enjoyable and much better written than the lot of the torture genre’s offerings. Larry Cohen (Q: The Winged Serpent/Phone Booth) and Joseph Tura’s screenplay has more in common with films like Cube than Hostel, with more of a focus on the nifty technology used in the prison cells, and more attention to the characters than to the methods with which they are dispatched. While we get a taste of what our antagonist does to his victims, it’s often presented to us in snapshots or video vignettes witnessed by his captives, rather than in drawn-out segments of him actually torturing someone. The only major dissatisfaction I had with the script was the “why” behind this killer’s actions, as it’s explained, but the reasoning has all of the resonance of why someone chooses a hamburger over a cheeseburger. Then again, why do any serial killers do what it is they do?
While I wont go as far as to wholeheartedly recommend Captivity, I will say that I was rather pleasantly surprised by the film. It's not brilliant, but it was smart enough to hold my attention, and Elisha Cuthbert is...well...she could stand there in a garbage bag and juggle mop heads, and I'd be reasonably entertained.
It’s certainly not a great horror film, but, in a year in which great horror films are sorely lacking, Captivity gets a mild recommendation for simply being “okay”.