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Captivity (Roland Joffe, 2007)


    Times are hard for the hardcore horror film.  After years of being the afterthoughts of film studios, a few surprise blockbusters created undue financial expectations and somewhat unwanted attention around the genre.  Now, it seems the most extreme kinds of horror films, dubbed “torture porn” by some, are on the defensive.  Last month’s release Hostel II marked a gigantic leap forward for director Eli Roth, both in thematic breadth and formal mastery, yet the movie was greeted with nearly universal disdain.  This month, former Palm D’Or winner Roland Joffe delivered Captivity, another entry in the film cycle, and was greeted with dismissals that seemed to strike before the film was even seen.  While Lionsgate, the distributor of both films, surely would disagree, this particular fan of the genre can’t help but feel that perhaps the genre is best left out of the limelight.


    For those fans still faithful enough to venture into the multiplex, Captivity is unlikely to disappoint.  It delivers the required quotient of gore and distress as it rumbles along its simple, predictably twisty plot. That being said, there’s technique here that deserves to be mentioned.  For the first hour or so of its runtime, Joffe presents a curious cinematic experiment, although I suspect Captivity won't get much credit as such. For the longest time, the film has no real plot, and next to no dialogue, focusing instead on a immersion into a series of sickly sensations. Because of that, it manages to be as disturbing as any recent horror film. With a single-mindedness that’s unusual for a mainstream movie, Captivity plunges the viewer almost directly into its nightmarish scenario. The style of the film plays up the surreal aspects of the horror genre, emphasizing dislocation and the sensation that a bad dream has sprung to life. Of all directors, Joffe’s approach most brings to mind Feuillade’s work to me. Like that great director’s silent serials, this movie keeps playing with the tensions between the concrete realities of the holding cell and the sudden shocks to that reality that occur when the captor manipulates the cell in unexpected ways. The resulting emotions are frustration, distrust, and unease, and they’re entirely appropriate for this genre. Ultimately, while Captivity is not a great film, for a good stretch it manages to be transportive in a way far too films manage to be. Joffe appears to have entered a disreputable genre a few months too late to capitalize on it financially, but at least he has managed to wring a modicum of art out of his attempt.



Jeremy Heilman