I'm shocked and appalled that I actually found something redeeming about "Captivity," if only at first. This is an ugly film, parts of which are as sick, depraved, and disgusting as an R rated movie is allowed to be. Of course, I knew all along that it was supposed to be that way, which is probably why that aspect didn't bother me. The first half of the film is actually quite strong, simply because no effort was put into character development, dialogue, or even plot; it was all about shocking the audience with gruesome scenes of torture and gore. It certainly worked in that regard. But then it completely lost its way, first when the characters were fleshed out, second when a back-story was alluded to. Both were beyond ridiculous, downright unnecessary. Had the filmmakers stuck to their original idea, had they not given the film an actual story and just focused on shock value, it probably would have been much more effective.
The plot concerns the plight of a young model/actress named Jennifer (Elisha Cuthbert). After drinking a drug-laced martini at a club and blacking out, she awakens to the realization that she's been kidnapped. She finds herself locked in a concrete cellar, a barren, dark room that's rigged with cameras, microphones, and various devices for psychological torture. Jennifer is periodically drugged, and she awakens to find herself in a different room, restrained on a slab. That's usually when we get vague impressions of the torturer, a menacing figure hidden by shadows and dark clothing. Who this person is and what this person wants is initially not revealed, which I thought worked quite well. All we really need to know is that he or she wants to be in complete control. This is probably why Jennifer is forced to witness video footage of previous victims. It's also why she's forced to do terrible things, such as drinking a blended mixture that's best not described.
After a while, a second captive is introduced, and the film goes downhill from there. His name is Gary (Daniel Gillies), and he claims to have been there for three days. He and Jennifer initially communicate through a dirt-covered window, although they occasionally find themselves back in the torture chamber, strapped to slabs. They eventually discover that the wall separating their chambers have doors, and that the torturer can open and close them. After they find themselves together, a series of plot twists begin. Not only do they ruin the atmosphere, they also make absolutely no sense. I'm afraid I can't describe them in detail; too much would be given away. In all honesty, the rest of the film can't be described without being incredibly vague. What I can say is that a new subplot is introduced, one that involves a boy who murdered his mother.
The last twenty minutes of the film unfold so unoriginally that I left feeling somewhat cheated. The shocking nature of the opening half is disregarded for routine escape scenes, material that had worn itself out a long time ago. It isn't a matter of being implausible; the entire premise is implausible, from the kidnapping to the methods of torture. It is, however, a matter of consistency, of sticking to the idea that initially made the film work. I'm usually one for character development, but in this case, it was not needed. If the intention is to consistently make the audience feel uncomfortable with scenes of torture, then please, don't bother trying to develop the characters. I didn't want to invest in Jennifer, and I certainly didn't want to understand who Gary was. But at a certain point, I was forced to do both, and that completely ruined the experience.
I think what's most disappointing is that this isn't the film I was expecting. As you may have heard, its ad campaign caused quite a stir. A four-paneled billboard--featuring the tagline "Abduction. Confinement. Torture. Extermination"--depicted Cuthbert in a series of disturbing situations that many deemed unsuitable for public display. It was removed from the campaign, which of course got me thinking that the film itself would be shocking beyond reason. While it did begin as such, it ultimately became a bland, uninteresting thriller. Frankly, this is not the controversial film that was promised. And let's not forget that its release was delayed, its opening date of May 16 changed to June 22 before July 13 was chosen. A delayed film is almost always a bad sign; the filmmakers use that extra time to reedit the film, usually into something that lacks the original vision.
I obviously don't know if this was the case with "Captivity." All I know is that the final cut did not live up to my expectations. I have a sneaking suspicion that it won't live up to anyone else's expectations, either. I'm referring directly to the devotees of Torture Horror Movies, a relatively new genre that defined such films as "Hostel," "Saw," and "Wolf Creek." They will find that "Captivity" ends up going in the wrong direction, which is disappointing, considering how promising the first half was. When I stop and think about it, the fact that I got something out of it at all is pretty unsettling; films this unpleasant, this unabashedly mean spirited would entertain only the most select audiences. I can't say that I'm proud to be a part of it.