Do You Like Crime Thrillers? Try "Prisoners"
The fall seems to be a good time for films about demons and mass murderers. Perhaps it is the whole association of autumn with Halloween and ghosts and ghoblins. "Prisoners" (2013), a Alcon Entertainment film ("The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants") directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski, embraces that imagery and adds to it. While not a classic horror film like the ones that have captivated audiences during recent Halloween season such as "Sinister," "Insidious," and "Insidious: Chapter 2," "Prisoners" creates its own horrors by revealing how dastardly people can become when pushed far enough.
|Hugh Jackman is troubled and takes matters into his own hands in "Prisoners."|
It is Thanksgiving, and Keller Dover and his family are spending it with their neighbors, the Birches. Both families have 6-year-old daughters, Anna Dover and Joy Birch, along with other children. Anna and Joy are playful and, during a walk outside before dinner, horse around on someone's nearby parked RV. After dinner, the two young girls leave to go to Anna's nearby house, but they never make it there and disappear.
|Jake Gyllenhaal is pitch-perfect as Loki in "Prisoners."|
The families call the police, and the RV the two girls were climbing on earlier is found at a gas station which is located near a heavily forested area. The police detective, Loki, questions the driver, Alex Jones, who speeds away in a frenzy and crashes. Taken for questioning, Alex turns out to be quiet and child-like. There is no evidence that he ever knew the two girls, let alone kidnapped them. Loki, however, remains suspicious. He visits Alex's aunt, Holly, who served as Alex's parent after his parents died many years earlier. Alex, now that he is grown, essentially lives in the RV.
|A loving family on Thanksgiving in "Prisoners."|
Alex is held for two days, then released. Keller still thinks that Alex took the children, and confronts and attacks Alex in a parking lot. Keller claims that Alex confessed, but nobody else heard Alex. Keller returns to Alex's RV and kidnaps him at gunpoint, confining him in a run-down apartment building that he is renovating. He and Joy's father, Franklin Birch, torture Alex in order to extract information on the girls' whereabouts. Franklin eventually tells his wife, Nancy Birch, and she comes to see Alex. Nancy frees Alex, but Keller recaptures him and imprisons Alex in a more secure spot inside a shower. Now, Keller is free to torture Alex with things like scalding water without fear that Alex can ever escape.
|The Birch family is heartbroken in "Prisoners."|
Loki, meanwhile, has heard that Alex is missing. He suspects that Keller might have something to do with Alex's disappearance, and so begins following Keller. The Birches by this point have had enough, but they don't turn Keller in. Loki pursues other leads, and one of them is a Priest, Father Dunn, who is found to have a dead body in his basement. Dunn quickly confesses that he lured the man to his house and killed him after the man said that he killed sixteen children. This, however, still does not solve the case of the two missing girls.
|"Let the police handle this."|
At a vigil for the Anna and Joy, Loki notices a man acting suspiciously and chases after him. The man eludes Loki, but is seen to break into the Dover and Birch homes for some unknown reason. Loki produces a sketch of the new suspect, and a store clerk recognizes it as a man who occasionally comes in to look at childrens' mannequins and then buy kids' clothing. The clerk is able to provide information to find the man, whose name is Bob Taylor. Loki goes to Taylor's home, which is found to contain numerous wall drawings of mazes. His home also contains locked boxes full of strange paraphernalia such as snakes and bloody children's clothing. The Dovers and Birches recognize some of Anna's and Joy's clothing, which results in Taylor confessing to killing them.
|"Tell me where my daughter is!"|
Keller now has to figure out what to do with Alex. He still thinks that Alex may have had something to do with the children's disappearance and death. When Alex, still imprisoned, mentions something about a "maze," Keller returns to the home of Alex's aunt to see if she has any reaction his mentioning a maze.
|"Where are they?"|
Loki now tries to extract more information about the children from Taylor, beating him, but Taylor manages to commit suicide using Loki's gun. Further investigation reveals that Taylor in fact took clothing from the children's houses, not the clothing that they were wearing, and the blood on the clothing in his house is from an animal, not the children. Taylor, in fact, was just a poser who was acting out scenes from a book.
|Discussing strategy in "Prisoners."|
Several days pass by, and Joy Birch passes out from drug abuse and is hospitalized. In a daze, Joy states in confused fashion that Keller was involved in her condition. Loki tries to capture Keller, who eludes him. Searching for Keller, Loki goes back to the apartment complex that he found out about when tracking Keller earlier, and there he finds Alex. Keller himself heads to Holly's house, where she detains him with a gun and forces him to imbibe sedatives. Holly now reveals that she had once been religious, but when her own son died of cancer, she and her husband had decided to wreak vengeance on other children, kidnap them, and turn them into demons.
|Paul Dano won't get much recognition in the press for his work in "Prisoners" - so he will here. Nice job.|
Alex, it turns out, was simply one of their early victims who they kidnapped. Holly's husband had run away recently, and that was the dead man found in Father Dunn's basement. Alex had given the two girls a ride for fun to Holly's house, and there she had kidnapped the girls.
|Hugh Jackman conveys the turmoil of a complex character in "Prisoners."|
Holly handcuffs Keller and throws him into a pit hidden under a car. There, he finds his daughter's whistle. Loki, meanwhile, visits Holly to tell her about finding Alex. When she doesn't answer the door, he enters and begins figuring everything out. Holly poisons Anna, but Loki breaks in just in time and kills Holly, saving Anna. Keller remains trapped in the pit for several days. Loki, though, is determined to find him for mistreating Alex. Loki digs up Holly's yard looking for past victims. Keller, hearing the commotion, frantically blows his daughter's whistle, which Loki hears.
|Paul Dano suffered for his role in "Prisoners."|
To say that "Prisoners" has a complicated plot for a standard crime thriller is a gross understatement. There are twists and turns throughout, with everyone interconnected in those coincidental ways that tend to happen only in really good fiction. Watching "Prisoners" is like reading a good Agatha Christie novel, where everything leads to something else, but even after things seemingly are wrapped up, more suspense awaits. "Prisoners" isn't meant to be particularly realistic, with all sorts of interrelationships and people acting in ways that ordinary humans simply don't (Keller and Birch confining Alex is one of the bigger stretches). However, the intricate plot will keep you spellbound as long as you don't leave to get a soda or something and missing a vital lead that will become necessary to understanding everything later - if you notice it in the first place.
|Maria Bello at the premiere of "Prisoners."|
The acting is top-notch. Hugh Jackman nicely plays Keller Dover as an obsessed man on the edge, while Jake Gyllenhaal is appropriately diligent as Loki. Viola Davis as Nancy Birch, Maria Bello as Grace Dover, Terence Howard as Franklin Birch, Melissa Leo as Holly Jones, Paul Dano as Alex Jones, and Len Cariou as Father Dunn all display the proper elements of alternating normality and creepiness that seems to infest every character.
The best word to describe "Prisoners" is disturbing. It takes normal people and shows what even the steadiest personalities might be capable of when put under enough stress. If you enjoy complex crime thrillers, "Prisoners" should give you a fine evening's entertainment.