Director: Luke Massey
Cast: Joseph Morgan
Plot: A soldier (Morgan) wakes up in a house he cannot escape, stalked by a shadowy creature every day, slowly losing his sanity.
I am really getting into my low-budget independent movies at the moment. Seeing as I am exploring the career of film-making myself, I can look to these films as a point of inspiration and guidance. While there are clear budget obstacles with the Captive, the story and direction is really good and it is a great experience to watch those points break through the limited space and equipment Luke Massey has been dealt with. Watching the Captive and movies like it, make my journey to becoming a film-maker that little bit more sure-footed.
The film dives straight into the story. A royal marine, who we later learn is called A.J, wakes up in a house. In a few precise frames, we learn everything we need to know about the character. He sleeps with a combat knife in his bed, his dreams are often a cacophony of sounds from his military days: we now know that there is clearly some level of post-traumatic stress going on. He goes downstairs, where he is confronted by a nightmarish orc-like creature. The fight is frantic and A.J barely gets away with his life. As he continues to explore the house for the rest of the day, he learns that there seems to be some supernatural element keeping him captive in this house. The doors do not open, the windows stay shut, even when A.J removes the bolts and his hot meals materialise in front of him at the exact same time every day. As days stretch into months, A.J realises there might not be a way out of his prison. Then there is the monster. The interesting thing about the movie monster here is that it is very killable. It starts off the main threat, the movie’s tension bringing drawn from the next appearance, but after a while, it becomes a background figure in the movie. Like that early baddie in a video game, that eventually becomes cannon fodder by the time you progress to the final level. It is an interesting concept and means that the danger of the story never wavers from the psychological breaking down of the protagonist.
Of course, this does mean that this is a film confined to one set and one actor is asked to hold the entire movie together. Some people might struggle with the patience required to enjoy the Captive. However, this movie raced by and by the time it ended, I was surprised, thinking I was only at the halfway mark. A lot of this is to do with Joseph Morgan being a terrific actor. It is a tough job being the only person on set for a lot of the film’s running time, but on top of that Morgan has to play a character who is descending into madness – and we could argue, villainy. You need to be quite skilled to balance the good guy bad guy mix just right. Too bad and the audience stop caring what happens to the hero. Too good and the director’s message gets lost. The other thing making the Captive so interesting is the director, Luke Massey. He has a few nice tricks up his sleeve that keeps things running smoothly. I like how time is used in this movie. On one hand, it is an important plot point, as certain fixed events, like the arrival of the monster, happens on the hour. But on the other hand, it keeps slipping into obscurity, most of the scenes being broken down into a highlight reel. It both makes the Captive an easier film to watch and expresses how A.J is losing track time of time. The writing is solid too, never shoving the symbolism and messages down your throat, but there are several readings there if you want to go looking for them. One moment suggests that in order to defeat the monster, A.J needs to become a monster himself, a concept he seems to easily get on-board with. This could be a nod towards how the military accidentally brain-washes young recruits. However, as I said, this strong military message never gets in the way of a good, old-fashioned psychologically thriller.
There is a meaty twist waiting at the end as well. As the film hits its halfway mark, I was impressed, but very aware that the Captive was going to be made or broken, depending on the final note of the film. I was pleased when the answers were satisfactory, with just enough ambiguity to leave the audience questioning what it just saw. The only complaint I had with this film was that little lack of a kick. I understand that the movie monster purposefully fades away due to routine, but I would have wanted a little bonus showdown for the conclusion of the film. Perhaps in the final few moments, A.J gets too comfortable and nearly slips up. Perhaps the movie monster was slowly getting tougher to kill as every day passed. I felt that something should have been done there to give the Captive a little bit more of a horror vibe. Psychological thrillers are good and all, and this is very good at that side of things, but they work best tagged along with another genre. Something for the horror fans might have gone down a little better.
Final Verdict: Luke Massey takes a minimalist story and uses keen direction to make it a well-paced, expertly controlled depiction of a man’s descent into madness.