Why it’s famous
French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is well decorated, to say the least — he’s collected a number of Academy Awards throughout his filmmaking journey. When he unleashed Prisoners, a film stacked with the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis and Dylan Minnette, he caught the attention of even the pickiest film festival goer.
Prisoners pushes the boundaries of the thriller genre, posing the question: how far would you go to protect your child? The film focuses on the abduction of two young girls in suburban Pennsylvania and the subsequent chaos that follows.
Films such as The Call, Taken and Savages have each taken a unique aim at the kidnapping plotline, but no such film paints the accompanying sense of dread and panic as thoughtfully as Prisoners.
Why you haven’t seen it
Prisoners is neither a light-hearted nor an easy watch. Unlike films which aim to tap into the viewer’s panic response, Prisoners gradually builds a sense of dread and unease in the viewer, begging those watching at home to deadbolt the door and triple-check on their sleeping loved ones.
The film was Villeneuve’s first English-language feature film. Regardless of the all-star ensemble the film boasts, Prisoners missed the surface for many because, at this time, Villeneuve was still largely unknown (he would go on to create Arrival, arguably one of the best films of the millennium thus far).
Why it might be tough to get through
Prisoners challenges viewers to get comfortable with the sense of dread the film radiates. Viewers must come prepared to face strapping themes of loss, turbulence and anxiety, delivered by emotionally raw performances by some of Hollywood’s best. Inherently, the film begs viewers for a strong emotional response.
The film is full of symbolism and subtle cues that the uninterested viewer might miss – either commit to being disturbed or give this one a skip. Moreover, a strong plot-twist might leave many viewers saying, “Huh?” But if you catch on, it’s an unbelievably satisfying twist.
The film may also hit too close to home for some. Prisoners pushes past the ghost and zombie tropes many films are plagued with, but rather, centers around every parent’s worst nightmare – their children vanishing.
Why you should see it anyway
Beneath the anxiety-provoking plotline runs a number of important themes explored throughout the film. Prisoners questions morality and the boundaries of good and evil, exploiting each character to situations most of us couldn’t even begin to imagine how we’d handle.
Moreover, Prisoners has been praised for its cinematography. Sleepily rolling hills, suburbia and almost constant rainfall mirror the existential angst captured by Villeneuve throughout the film.
In addition, Prisoners presents a top-notch cast who truly give some of their best work in this film.
Keller Dover: Every day she’s wondering why I’m not there! Not you, but me!
Detective Loki: With all due respect captain, go f**k yourself.
Keller Dover: We hurt him until he talks or they’re going to die.
Before being anchored by the likes of Hugh Jackman and Viola Davis, the script for Prisoners bounced around Hollywood for quite some time. It’s rumoured that other A-list actors Leonardo Dicaprio and Christian Bale were previously attached to the project.
The film centers around Detective Loki obsessively searching for two kidnapped children. Interestingly, in Norse Mythology a tale titled Loka Tattur describes how the god Loki persistently tries to protect a child from a giant named Skrymir.