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Case Number 15218: Small Claims Court

Buy Captives at Amazon


Shoes Off Productions // 2008 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // December 12th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Dan Mancini was once held captive by a boring conversation.

Editor's Note

Our review of The Basement: Camp Retro '80s Horror Collection, published August 12th, 2011, is also available.

The Charge

Everyone gets caught…

The Case

Captives, the feature debut of writer-director Randall Chu, is a pleasant surprise: a micro-budget independent thriller that is as interested in its characters as its plot. Relying less on scares or startling revelations than dread and non-linear storytelling, Chu has crafted a taut little movie that is a skosh pretentious but still manages to entertain. The story involves the twisted adventures of two couples. When fate introduces dull suburbanites Neil (Kyle Vogt, The Wedding Video) and Jane (Stephanie Denise Griffin, The Jane Austen Book Club) to thrill-seekers Jim (Len Cordova, Red Skies) and Naomi (Leah Allers, Growing Up Thirty), the quartet hatches a scheme to bring some excitement into their lives with a faux crime—a consensual kidnapping. But once the game begins, both of the couples get more than they bargained for.

The press materials for Captives cite Alfred Hitchcock, Claude Chabrol, and Roman Polanski among the directors who most influenced Chu, but the movie plays like homage to a more modern master of the psycho-thriller: Christopher Nolan. Chu's screenplay piles on dialogue and keeps the viewer engaged by fracturing and rearranging narrative time, much like Nolan did so effortlessly in his early films, Following and Memento. Captives isn't as smart or sure-footed as either of those movies, but it's an awfully good example of the potential of independent filmmakers to deliver smart genre pieces too unconventional to score a green light in Hollywood. The movie's plot is fairly simple, but Chu keeps things interesting by hurtling us back and forth in time and carefully revealing the truth as we learn more and more about his characters. To Chu's credit, none of the temporal shenanigans feels gimmicky. And his screenplay and direction are deft enough that one never feels lost in the tangled happenings. Instead, the jumbling of time feels necessary to the telling of the tale.

The movie's philosophical aspirations and dense dialogue, handled smoothly in the first act, become a bit too obvious by the end as the characters discuss abstract concepts even in the midst of real-life trauma. That doesn't change the fact that the final turn of plot is satisfying. And Chu never lets his ideas derail the pace of his story. The four actors deserve major props for their believable delivery of Chu's dense and often abstract dialogue. They mostly succeed in personalizing conversations that might otherwise sound like the idle, late-night chit-chat of a group of undergraduates cramming for their first philosophy quiz. Leah Allers is particularly impressive, carrying the film with a performance that moves believably from playful to terrified to coldly sinister.

Captives was shot with a Panasonic DVX-100 Mini-DV camera over a period of five weekends in 2006. Taking into account the source, not to mention the movie's small budget and brief schedule, it looks decent on DVD. Color saturation and accuracy vary depending on the quality of the various natural lighting sources, as does the level of detail. The more controlled the source of light, the more conventionally impressive the image appears. The interlaced transfer also suffers from ghosting during quick movements. Despite the understandable fluctuations in video quality, the work of director of photography Travis MacRitchie is solid and often artful throughout.

The audio presentation is less impressive than the video. Volume is lower than normal and dialogue sits further back in the mix than is comfortable. At times I had to strain to make out what the characters were saying. The mix itself is free of distortion or other flaws.

The only supplement on the disc is a trailer for the film.

Captives is far from a masterpiece, but it's a solid effort by a first time writer-director. Viewers willing to looks past the DVD's technical limitations will find an entertaining little indie thriller.

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: Shoes Off Productions
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Independent
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailer


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• Official Site

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