Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Paris Hilton should think herself lucky. A few days in jail is nothing compared to the ordeal the model/actress/whatever heroine goes through in this latest example of the ‘extreme’ horror genre.

But a far greater punishment for our favourite heiress, or indeed anyone else, would be to have to sit through such a nasty, predictable and thoroughly underwhelming film.

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Hollywood currently seems to be churning out these things at the rate of about one a fortnight (this one comes complete with a hoo-ha over some of the billboard posters, that has allowed it to be flagged as "the year’s most controversial thriller") and let's hope the derision Captivity inspired from the preview audience I saw it with is a sign the genre is starting to burn out. The genuine originality and suspense pioneers such as Eli Roth brought to the table are being drowned in ever larger quantities of gore and sadism. It would be bad enough if this were directed by some studio hired hack desperate to climb the Tinseltown ladder. The fact that the culprit is Roland Joffé, who directed two of the finest films of the Eighties - The Killing Fields and The Mission - is one I find thoroughly depressing.

It’s his first film in seven years and maybe he was keen to show the young Turks that he could master any genre. But I really wish he hadn’t bothered. It lacks the icy nihilism and black satire of Roth’s work or the crazed, feral energy of an old master such as Dario Argento, and the attempts to introduce some would-be Hitchcockian plot twists fall embarrassingly flat.

The wafer-thin story concerns Jennifer (Elisha Cuthbert), a New York-based supermodel who has the world at her feet. But – guess what – fame hasn’t bought her happiness. It hasn’t even bought her an entourage, apparently; when she gets drugged and abducted at a charity event there’s not a bodyguard, personal assistant or lifestyle guru anywhere in sight. It’s the first of many, many plot holes.

And then we’re back in the soundproof dungeon, folks, lavishly equipped as usual with all manner of torture and sensory deprivation devices. Some thoroughly unpleasant scenes ensue, where Jennifer is subjected to the kind of degradation Hollywood seems to think it’s still OK to inflict on beautiful young actresses.

But her hair and make-up remain immaculate throughout, and she awakes after each session in a sexy new outfit (perhaps the bad guy’s a deranged ex-personal shopper?) After an initial strategy of alternately screaming very loudly and pleading for mercy gets her nowhere she looks for a possible escape route. And finds out she’s not alone.

Imprisoned in an adjacent dungeon is Gary (Daniel Gillies) an earlier adbuctee who’s also been out through the wringer and worked out that “if we stay here we’re dead”. She decides her best hope is to team up with him (are you listening, Germaine Greer?!) and together they try to find a way out . Or possibly they just want to get off the picture as soon as possible.

A simple cat-and mouse chase here might have restored some suspense, but instead plot twists are piled on with reckless abandon. I won’t give them away, mainly because you’ll see them coming a mile off, anyway. Suffice to say the finale takes an age to arrive and then manages to be both unbelievable and predictable. The desaturated end credits with the creepy music - genre cliché No.473 as present and correct as all the others - arrive not a moment too soon.

Joffé manages the occasional telling image and nerve-jarring moment, but for the most part this is dumb, derivative stuff that isn’t even that well-crafted. Jerky editing and subdued lighting just make it hard to follow what’s going on and the relentless parade of grand guignol set pieces eventually becomes laughable. One could argue that his Eighties triumphs were a bit too self-consciously ‘epic’ and ‘important’ but at least they were about something. Any interesting points about the relationship between the media’s objectification of Jennifer and the attacker’s obsession are soon lost in a welter of voyeuristic excess. If that was the point, or if the whole thing is intended as a deliberately amped-up satire of the genre, it doesn’t work.

As to the performances, the best thing you can say about Cuthbert is that she’s marginally less clueless and irritating than she was in 24. Gillies is competent enough, but neither is given any help by a clunky script. One can only hope that Joffé’s upcoming Singularity is an improvement. It really couldn’t be much worse.

Reviewed on: 16 Jun 2007
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A beautiful fashion model is kidnapped and tortured by an unknown assailant.
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Director: Roland Joffé

Writer: Larry Cohen, Joseph Tura

Starring: Elisha Cuthbert, Daniel Gillies, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Laz Alonso, Michael Harney, Rebekah Ryan, Michael Maples, Olivia Negron, Chrysta Olson, Elijah Runcorn, Remy Thorne

Year: 2007

Runtime: 84 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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