The torture porn genre is an intriguing beast. It aims to push the viewer to the limits of their endurance while placing them in an uncomfortable (or, to some, delicious) voyeuristic capacity. As in the case of Caged (Captifs), it is not necessarily gore porn, though the two genres can and often do overlap (as in the case of seminal French film Martyrs, to which Caged is being compared). The real challenge of torture porn lies in watching the subjugation of an individual. And that is where Caged‘s head is at.
Three doctors on their way to a new post find themselves abducted by masked and armed men when they take a foolish detour in the countryside of former Yugoslavia. The captives, one of whom is an attractive woman with a penchant for rough sex (played by the talented Zoe Felix), are kept caged and in the dark, fed and watered by sadistic gaolers as they await their fate at the hands of an evil doctor whose methods and motives remain shrouded in mystery.
To justify itself as a valid addition to cinema, torture porn requires good acting, atmosphere, context and at least the semblance of a plot. The doctors form an intriguing trio in the form of exuberant yet level-headed Carole (Zoe Felix), lovestruck puppy Samir (Arie Elmaleh) and grouchy veteran Mathias (Eric Savin). Their chemistry is good enough that their later predicament feels all the more grievous.
The principal strength of Caged is its relentless build of tension. There is constant struggle without the opiate of fatalism. The viewer cannot prepare themselves for potential future horrors because there is no guarantee they will ensue. Director Yann Gozlan holds himself in check; not every gory moment is savoured. Much of the ordeal – and it is an ordeal, make no mistake – comes from the unknown rather than the seen. The build-up is such that even small mishaps like an awkward fall from a low window are as gut-wrenching as any visual atrocity could be.
The main potential detraction from Caged is that it aims to please both torture porn and regular film fans alike – but the two are not alike. Gore-hounds may find themselves dissatisfied with the paucity of gratuitous violence. Vanilla viewers may find the tension too relentless for their tastes. I, however, appreciated a movie that made me hold my breath for nearly as long as Haute Tension (though in a very different way).
As for the subjugation of women? That’s a common element of torture porn. As a woman, and according to my personal cinematic tastes, I would far rather see a strong woman brutalised to the point of redemption (Martyrs, Caged) than a normal woman brutalise herself to the point of vapid kowtowing apathy (Just Go With It). Voyeuristic gore hound with something approaching a social conscience, that’s me.
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