|The fetishization of our greatest fears|
Dir. Atom Egoyan
Script: David Fraser & Egoyan
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson, Mireille Enos, Kevin Durand, Christine Horne, Alexia Fast, Peyton Kennedy, Bruce Greenwood, Aaron Poole, Jason Blicker
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Spanning eight years in the life of Cassandra (Alexia Fast/Peyton Kennedy), a child kidnapped from her father Matthew's (Ryan Reynolds) car while he pops into a roadside bakery to bring home a treat, The Captive focuses upon both the Stockholm-Syndrome-like effects upon the girl and the devastation her disappearance wreaks upon the family and cops looking for some closure (positive or negative) to the mystery. It's subject matter that hits all the chords most of us want to eradicate from our world and as such, perfect material for the masterful Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan.
Egoyan's meticulously complex films have almost always been tinged with creepy thriller-like elements, darkly droll humour and deep humanity buried beneath layers of existential disconnect and deliberate puzzle-like manipulations of time and space. His superb 1999 adaptation of William Trevor's novel Felicia's Journey is still one of the best serial killer movies made in the last two decades. I'd even place it far above such fake "A"-picture studio exploitation items making thrills palatable to the mainstream like Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. Featuring Bob Hoskins' finest performance (ever) as Hilditch, the gastronomically-obsessed and even somewhat banal psychopath, Felicia's Journey struck me as being a kind of demented play on Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy as if that 70s classic had been pumped full of deliciously near-lethal doses of lovely lithium. It was sickeningly terrifying and oddly, deeply moving. I longed for Egoyan to make another thriller and even now wish he'd do nothing but thrillers or maybe even a flat-out horror.
The Captive is nothing if not downright shudder-inducing. Set against the overcast snow blanket of Southern Ontario's Niagara region, the film taps directly into every parent's greatest terror - the disappearance of a child without a single, solitary trace. It's a surefire starting point, but Egoyan and David Fraser's twisted, ominously fetishistic screenplay provides a solid framework for the film to go well beyond merely tapping into the fear everyone harbours. It's as much a genre picture of the highest order as it is a harrowing exploration of faith, family and the soul-sickening sense of hope that drives all those touched by the horrendous violence perpetrated against children.
The Captive's potential to anger audiences (especially, it seems, quite a few boneheaded, know-nothing film "critics") is not unlike that of Lars von Trier's AntiChrist (sans, of course, that film's genital mutilation). I feel strongly, though, that neither film seeks to intentionally raise ire, but rather, to dive into all sorts of places that most people simply don't want to go, places that are so necessary and vital to confront, grotesquely dark corners of existence to reflect upon and/or expose.
The Captive achieves this in two brilliant ways. First of all, Fraser and Egoyan set up a number of familiar narrative tropes of the thriller genre and give them a decidedly shaken, not stirred, quality. What's structurally mundane becomes extraordinarily abhorrent, creepily unnerving. Inherent in both the narrative and the aesthetic are the especially horrendous fetishistic qualities of perspective which place us as observers in the pain of the film's victims/subjects.
Visually and stylistically, Egoyan's rich compositions, supported by cinematographer Paul Sarossy's delicate shadings and painterly dappling of light capture the very essence of white-grey exteriors and the (mostly) clinical interiors. When the visual palette includes warmth, it comes in the unlikeliest of places like the psychopath's lair, the victim's prison, Nicole the cop's (Rosario Dawson) office and, of course, the roadside bakery which is where the horror really begins.
There's so much I admire about this movie. Ryan Reynolds continues to prove he's one of the great living actors and here he taps emotional depths he's yet to uncover - his despair is so palpable we can't help but walk in his shoes. Mychael Danna's score is a marvel - tapping both the moving power and jangling force of Bernard Herrmann. Witness the opening movements of the score - so lushly bucolic, but as the camera slowly reveals more and more snow and bush of the isolated setting, we hear ever-so slight tinges of unease. Then, of course, during moments of pulse-pounding suspense (two sequences during the film's climactic moments in particular had me rendering my fingertips to bloody, pulpy stubs), Danna slams us with everything he's got and then some.
Kevin Durand as the full-on sicko ringleader of an online community of pain-fetishists is slime-incarnate and there isn't a moment he's onscreen that we don't feel like vomiting. His performance is bravely in sharp contrast to Hoskins from Felicia's Journey where the late British bombast actually tapped into human aspects that allowed us to care for him. Durand does something even more difficult, he taps into humanity - and yes, it IS humanity - that we never hope to experience, but indeed exists. This is no Snidely Whiplash villain, but the kind of sick, venal, mind-numbingly banal and even pretentious evil that's finally more the reality of these sick freaks.
Though the film has its share of universal qualities, the manner with which Egoyan explores the dark-net subculture of predators is also rooted in truly indigenous qualities of Canadian culture. The country has long had a history of monsters infused with the vapid desires of such empty vessels as Bernardo-Homolka, Clifford Olson and, amongst many, many others, Dennis Melvin Howe. Unlike Hannibal Lecter, serial criminal psychopaths are not brilliant, they're petty, pretentious and boring.
This, for me, might be the scariest, most sickening element of The Captive. So much pain and wasted time in the lives decent people comes from the actions of a trite, haughty dullard. Thank Christ Egoyan shoves our faces in the faecal matter of this reality. Doing so manages to expose terrible truths and give us one hell of a thrilling ride.
The Captive is in theatrical release across the country via eOne.