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The Captive | 2014 Cannes Review

Ego-Yawn: Kiddie Porn Ring thriller less than Captivating

While, in many respects, The Captive represents a return to form for the Toronto-based Cannes mainstay, the “losing” streak, sadly, goes on. Similar in premise to recent child captivity films like Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners and Marcus Schleinzer’s 2011 Palme d’Or-contending Michael, Egoyan once again foregrounds the technological angle of his kidnap narrative, putting authorial emphasis on surveillance paranoia, chatroom anonymity, and cellular video capabilities to distinguish the project from the aforementioned works. The result is a highly stylized thriller that – aided by an a-chronological structure in its first act – is legitimately intriguing and occasionally captivating until it fall into irredeemably dumb traps of its own setting. Many will lambast the film’s intentionally stilted performances and hammy tone, but its most egregious flaws are located in the script, which, among many flaws, exhibits a lack of understanding in the way the internet actually works – incredibly bizarre, coming from a filmmaker who’s made so many films (including this one) ostensibly about the internet.

The World Wide Web is only creeping in the margins, though, as the film primarily concerns the eight-year pursuit of Cass (Peyton Kennedy), a blonde ballet dancer who was abducted from the back seat of her father’s (Ryan Reynolds) pick-up truck when he briefly stopped to pick up a pie from a local bakery. Before this ever occurs, though, we’re shown ominous footage of an old performance of The Magic Flute‘s “The Queen of the Night Aria” (a tune that shows up a number of times in the film, including a rendition by Kevin Durand that rivals Florence Foster Jenkins’s infamous butcher-job), then given a tour of Mika’s (Durand) opulent, Bauhaus-era mansion, which descends into the basement where he keeps the bookish Cass contained locked up in a cinderblock cell. Flat screen monitors displaying real-time footage of a maid cleaning a hotel room are distributed throughout the house, including one that Cass watches in her room with a curious fascination.

From here, ominous meetings, conversations, and glances are presented without any sort of context, building a frigid atmosphere that lends an eerie weight to the quaint, made-for-television aesthetic so often employed in Egoyan’s cinema. This narrative disorganization is nothing new for Egoyan, but he shows his hand too early and extinguishes the spell he’d built up with disorienting structure. Once characters’ role are identifiable within the narrative, it’s easier to see the stereotypical and witless construction of the scenario and characters.

What to make, for example, of a gaff as careless as when investigator Jeffrey (Scott Speedman) decides to have his young niece participate in a video chat with Cass, well aware that whoever is holding her captive is watching and will now have visualization of a potential target to ward off the police pursuit? Or, further yet, when Nicole (Rosario Dawson) intervenes by first stepping in front of the camera instead of closing the webcam without exposing herself as well? Thrillers live and die by the trust that characters will make, if not the correct decisions, the most well-informed decisions they are able to make; otherwise it becomes a portrait of stupidity over any other themes that had been set up. The Captive isn’t as vapid as many will no doubt make it out to be, but it’s not like Egoyan didn’t set himself up for this position.

Reviewed on May 17th – Main Competition Section – 113 Minutes


Blake Williams is an avant-garde filmmaker born in Houston, currently living and working in Toronto. He recently entered the PhD program at University of Toronto's Cinema Studies Institute, and has screened his video work at TIFF (2011 & '12), Tribeca (2013), Images Festival (2012), Jihlava (2012), and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Blake has contributed to's coverage for film festivals such as Cannes, TIFF, and Hot Docs. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Coen Bros. (Fargo), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Code Unknown), Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), Kar-wai (Happy Together), Kiarostami (Where is the Friend's Home?), Lynch (INLAND EMPIRE), Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Van Sant (Last Days), Von Trier (The Idiots)

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