Given that America's leaders don't feel that the Geneva Conventions apply to them, it's ironic how much moral outrage has recently been directed at so-called "torture porn," the grisly sub-genre that may be petering out with the sputtering box-office performance of the Hills Have Eyes and Hostel sequels. The trouble with many of the apocalyptic reviews, which apply to even to the most skillful and effective examples, is that they fail to make distinctions between art and trash; if a film offers up torture for viewers' presumed edification, then it couldn't possibly have any merit, right? Yet there's a world of difference between The Devil's Rejects and Wolf Creek—which work in the bracing (and, in the former case, politically loaded) tradition of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre—and bottom-feeding garbage like Captivity, which tries to nibble the stale crumbs of the Saw phenomenon.
In spite of co-writer Larry Cohen, the high-concept B-movie wizard behind Q: The Winged Serpent and the It's Alive trilogy, Captivity goes about its business in surprisingly rudimentary fashion. With little setup, famous fashion model Elisha Cuthbert gets lured to a nightclub for a charity event, but a bad guy spikes her appletini and spirits her away to his torture chamber. Communicating with her strictly through cut-and-paste notes, disturbing video footage, and booby traps in the room, the captor subjects Cuthbert to various horrors, most involving the misuse of a Cuisinart. Cuthbert finds an unexpected ally when she discovers another victim (Daniel Gillies) in the cell adjacent to hers, but in this controlled environment, someone's watching their every move.
As with the Saw movies, there's a big twist behind all these gross machinations, but once it arrives, it raises the question of why the writers didn't come up with another twist to cover up the honkingly obvious one. A long way from The Killing Fields—or even his famously botched version of The Scarlet Letter, for that matter—director Roland Joff? halfheartedly builds atmosphere with dim lighting, scratchy sound effects, and more surveillance equipment than Fort Knox. In a genre where killers love to play head games, it's a clever idea (Cohen's?) to have this one remain mute, but that leaves Cuthbert to carry much of the psychological load, and there's no substance to her character, apart from the suggestion that she's being punished for her vanity. Captivity has the compulsory quality of a straight-to-DVD movie—and considering the fast-fading torture-porn movement, that's no doubt the destiny of similar offerings to follow.