Top cover girl and fashion model, Jennifer Tree has it all – beauty, fame, money and power. Her face appears on covers of hundreds of magazines. At the top of her game, Jennifer is America’s sweetheart. She is loved and adored and sought after. Everyone wants her. But someone out there has been watching and waiting. Someone wants her in the worst way. Out alone at a charity event in Soho, Jennifer is drugged and taken. Held captive in a cell, Jennifer is subjected to a series of terrifying, life-threatening tortures that could only be conceived by a twisted, sadistic mind. It follows the story of one woman who is abducted and tortured, held against her will in a place where days turn into weeks
First of all, I feel like Captivity is a fairly average horror film but it seems to have gotten a rather bad rap across the board. The plotline is fairly predictable, the characters aren’t entirely original and I don’t really think it’ll have a lasting impression with anybody, so what is it about Captivity that has captured people’s attention in such a negative way?
Causing controversy seems to have always been at the heart of the horror genre, and Captivity is no stranger to controversy! Indeed, before the film was even released, it started to get a bit of a reputation – although, if anything, this helped to boost the awareness for the film. One of the first advertising campaigns for the movie featured a series of panels saying ‘Abduction, Confinement, Torture, Termination’ on them, accompanied with several images of a young woman (Elisha Cuthbert) in varying states of distress. After it was put up on several billboards around Los Angeles, complaints were made, forcing producer After Dark Films to take them down. The distributor, Lionsgate claimed to know nothing about the posters and said that the blame lay solely with After Dark Films. Then, due to this breach in MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) guidelines about what had been approved for the advertising campaign, there was actually a movement (of which writer Joss Whedon was involved with) that aimed at getting the MPAA rating for Captivity removed, therefore severely limiting its potential to sell tickets.
Having seen the film for myself, I wondered what it was about Captivity in particular that caused to much bother. The funniest thing is that Captivity isn’t even particularly gory. Ok, so there’s a woman getting her face burnt off with acid and another woman being force-fed a c**ktail of blood and mashed up organs (which was apparently really made from a combination of Bloody Mary and strawberry daiquiri with tonnes of strawberries in it, for anyone who’s interested), but most of the film is heavily based on the more psychological aspect of being someone’s prisoner. Comparisons have, of course, been made with Saw and Hostel, and whilst I understand the logic in this, I do not think that Captivity is anywhere near as violent as them. Maybe it is simply because the violence in Captivity is directed towards one person as opposed to different ones.
When asked about the nature of the film and whether it has gone ‘too far’, actor Daniel Gillies said, ‘I don’t know what too far is anymore. America has a great love affair with talking about how incredible its freedom of speech is, and yet all I see is the curbing of speech here.’ Similarly, main actress Elisha Cuthbert was questioned about what she thought the appeal to these kinds of ‘torture P*rn’ movies is and she simply stated, “I don’t know. I guess there’s a vulnerability in seeing a female character trying to get out of something really drastic.’ She also highlighted the fact that she did not find any of the film insulting or misogynistic, and that she always made a conscious decision to play the character as being strong, instead of simply a ‘victim’. After Captivity completely bombed at the box office, Courtney Solomon (who is the founder of After Dark Films) admitted that, ‘It’s overkill, I think audiences have said, ‘I’ve had enough.’ It’s as simple as that.’
Apparently, Captivity was originally much more inclined towards being a thriller as opposed to a horror, but this was changed (at Courtney Solomon’s request) in order to appeal to the gore fanatic American audiences – especially with the popularity of films like Saw and Hostel at that time. There’s a slight continuity issue here, with Elisha Cuthbert’s vastly different hairstyles from scene to scene. I personally think that if Captivity had remained as a purely psychological thriller it would have been much more effective and ‘creepy’.
Captivity begins with introducing the viewers to a beautiful model (played by Elisha Cuthbert) who has her drink spiked at a club and wakes up in a secluded, locked room. Obviously, there is some confusion and anger on her part as she initially tries every way she can possibly think of to escape, but soon the kidnapper lets her know his power in an attempt to ‘break’ her (mentally). She has to endure many horrific things but she never loses hope – especially when she discovers a man (played by Daniel Gillies) trapped in the next room to hers, in a similar predicament. The two of the form a close bond and figure out their escape together on the basis that they can achieve more if working in cahoots. This underlying romance story adds an extra element to the otherwise cold and brutal kidnapping. The twist near the end was not entirely out of the blue, but I still thought that it was a nice touch all the same.
With these things being said, Captivity is pretty much your average horror movie. There’s a bit of eye candy, a bit of torture, a bit of sedation, a bit of sex, knifes, guns, pulling of teeth…the whole lot really. It’s an easy way to kill an hour and a half, not to seek out but not to avoid.