Making a low-budget, independent film is hard work.
Making "Captives," the debut feature film from writer/director Randall Chu had to be really hard.
So, then, here's my dilemma.
I respect Chu's efforts to create a unique, stylish and thought-provoking thriller. I really do.
In fact, I can even see what he's going for with "Captives," a film that follows two couples whose lives are irrevocably changed when their paths cross one day.
Unfortunately, Chu over-stretches in his first cinematic effort with "Captives" being a disappointingly uneven and uninvolving film lacking in the key ingredient necessary to make it work...suspense.
After all, what's a thriller if it's not thrilling?
The idea is intriguing.
Jim (Len Cordova, "The Long Walk Home") and Naomi (Leah Allers, "Destiny") are a thrill-seeking and passionate couple looking for new adventures on a cross-country trip whose car breaks down in front of the home of Jane (Stephanie D. Griffin, "The Jane Austen Book Club") and Neil (Kyle Vogt, "The Wedding Video"), an obviously unhappy couple who've settled into a routine that fits Neil just fine but leaves Jane noticeably dissatisfied.
What follows is a series of actions that intertwine fantasies, realities and ill-wishes designed to evoke memories of Hitchcock (most notably "Strangers on a Train").
When Chu focuses his film on his more adventurous couple, Jim and Naomi, "Captives" actually comes close to working. Allers, daughter of Oscar-nominated director Roger Allers, and Cordova have a decent chemistry and one can't help but think that it wouldn't have been a stretch to build a palpable thriller around their thrill-seeking ways.
On the other hand, whether it's a script issue, the acting or the way the film is edited, Neil and Jane aren't just stuck in a rut...they're downright boring.
Travis MacRitchie's cinematography creates a nice atmosphere for the building suspense, but he never quite captures the characters in the same way. If you watch a Hitchcock film, say "Strangers on a Train," you can see the ways in which the characters are framed and caught in various aspects of their body language and facial expressions that enhances the already heightened suspense. These scenes that allow for the building of suspense and one's own investment in the story never really happen in "Captives."
This lack of buildup is further complicated by a script that seems to focus more on the mechanics of the story rather than the character development.
I could SEE, at times even feel, where Chu was wanting me to go as an audience member, however, I never felt invested enough in the characters to go there. It's difficult for an audience to feel "suspense" or "thrill" if there's no psychological investment, and only in bits and pieces did that investment ever happen.
So, "Captives" presents a dilemma for me.
I respect the idea of "Captives." I respect the effort in the film. In fact, I'd even say it's quite obvious that Chu has a strong artistic vision and the idea for "Captives" is quite promising.
Despite promising performances from Leah Allers and Len Cordova, "Captives" never quite gels into the thought-provoking and insightful thriller it's trying to be.
Visit the film's website for more information. "Captives" is currently available on CreateSpace and Amazon.com.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic