Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Captivity: Don't Get Caught!

Casting our minds back to the 80s we may remember a pretty impressive movie documenting the horrors of Cambodia called 'The Killing Fields'. Not long after that 'The Mission' brought together a great cast (De Niro, Irons, Ray McNally) and a haunting Ennio Morricone score to tell the story of the early missionaries in America. Both these movies were directed by Roland Joffe, a graduate of British television. Here it seemed was a man with a future. However, after the Patrick Swayze vehicle, 'City of Joy', things started to take a downturn for Joffe. An uncredited stint on 'Super Mario Brothers' and then the disastrous flop, 'The Scarlet Letter', saw Joffe wander into the wilderness. After a seven year Hollywood absence, he is now back with 'Captivity'. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

'Captivity' tells the tale of a super model (Elisha Cuthbert) kidnapped by a sadistic serial killer, tortured, recorded and groomed for a nasty end. The tortures she undergoes and the question of whether she escapes or not fills its mercifully brief running time. This being cult screenwriter/director, Larry Cohen's screenplay (he of 'Phone booth' and 'God Told Me To' fame), the tale does have a 'twist' and nods to films like 'Psycho' and 'Peeping Tom'. None of this can disguise the fact that we are in 'Saw' territory. The voyeuristic killer plays some fairly banal games with his victim, while his ideas of torture - Cuthbert being force-fed a human organ smoothie, for instance - are calculated to gross out his teenie audience.

It's very hard to write about 'Captivity' without mentioning other movies; everything it does has been done so much better elsewhere. Following 'Saw', 'Hostel', and 'Paradise Lost', this is yet another example of torture porn, without even the benefit of originality. Indeed, when you take out the sadistic games, the story itself would scarcely make a half-hour television short.

It would be easy to point at recent cinema fare and claim this kind of damsel in distress sadism as something new, but the reality is quite different. Since the very early days of the Gothic tradition (and we are talking here of the early Eighteenth Century), this kind of titillating sensationalism has pervaded popular culture. Matthew Lewis's 'The Monk' or the works of the Marquis De Sade are relatively well-known examples in literature, but far more lowbrow fare has always followed in the wake of such works.

In cinema, this kind of lazy sadism harks back to a penny dreadful style of filmmaking usually adopted by low-budget productions, not glossy Hollywood fare. True, movies like George Franju's 'Eyes Without a Face', have used sadistic gore in the service of what has to be regarded as cinematic art, but more commonly a cheap bucket of fake blood more than earned back the cost of an exploitation flick. This lesson has finally been learnt by the major studios, but they still believe paying more will yield more and lately they have splashed out on more expensive blood. In dressing the violence up and taking it seriously though, or as seriously as they are capable, Hollywood misses the point. The likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis's 'Bloodfeast' or Raimi's 'The Evil Dead' are enjoyable because they are so ludicrous. Cohen himself succeeded many times in this subgenre (remember 'Q: The Winged Serpent' or 'It's Alive!'?). 'Captivity', in contrast, like its many recent siblings, tries to give its sadism an authentic veneer and in so doing appeals to the very basest human appetites, without providing any relief (or corrective) in laughter.

In short, there is nothing to redeem this particular kind of sensationalist gore. Watching beautiful young things being tortured is a tradition that goes far beyond even cinema, but it is one that has its place. Once A-list directors with big budgets gives torture porn a respectability that it neither deserves nor ever sought. Certainly outside of giving Joffe a way back into Hollywood, 'Captivity' will do nothing to enhance his reputation. From an audience perspective, it is more likely to bore or sicken than entertain. In short then, don't get caught!

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home