Suspense: it’s everywhere. In movies, it’s the feeling when a serial killer in a horror flick is close to killing someone. In sports, it’s having your team beat the opposition on a last-ditch effort. For undergraduate students, it’s walking into a room for a job interview. For singers, it’s performing live before a crowd of people at a big venue. The point in each of these isolated cases is that there’s a blur in terms of what you think happens and what actually happens.
Prisoners falls exactly into this category. In most films today, the premise is that it’s predictable and that you do not have to watch the entire thing to know what it is about. That is not the case with this film. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (who also made movies such as Les Incendies and Sicario), and starring Wolverine, Donnie Darko, and Amanda Waller (to name a few) this is a fine example of waiting until the very last shot to truly grasp what the hell is going on. Honourable mentions goes to Roger Deakins for making the jaw-dropping cinematography and for Melissa Leo’s portrayal as Holly Jones.
At first glance, the movie is your standard, run-of-the-mill missing persons case. There’s an investigator whose aim is to find whoever abducted these people. And there’s also the family’s grief and despair. But what makes this film so great is how layered it is. Characterized as a crime/mystery/drama triumvirate, Villeneuve takes the best tropes from each of these genres and blends them seamlessly into a film that really makes you think. When you watch it for the first time, you keep thinking to yourself “Oh this must be the person,” or “Aha! This is it… After this scene is finished, the movie’s done!”
I’ll dedicate the next paragraph to the plot twist, so if you hate spoilers, then look away. You’ve been warned…
Alex Jones and Bob Taylor are the two people we suspect are the abductors of the two families’ little girls. Alex drove the RV, the last time we physically saw the two girls, and Taylor had articles of clothing that looked to be fitting for the age of the two families’ daughters. We find out that while both abetted in the crime, the true suspect and mastermind behind the madness was in fact Holly Jones, the “aunt” of Alex Jones. Turns out, they aren’t related; Holly abducted Alex as a child, and reasons for why he has a bit of a mental problem is because of trauma he faced when her late husband kept pet snakes in the house. Taylor, another victim of Holly’s, killed himself in the police station after revealing he abducted the two girls.When asked the logic behind the abductions, Mrs. Jones stated that this was the ingenious idea she and her husband cooked up as part of their “war against God” after their son’s death.
The situation gets even worse when Jones imprisons Keller in a pit hidden beneath a 1950s style car, the same pit that she put both girls in. The very last shot that we see is Loki going back to the crime scene, and hearing faint sounds of Dover in the pit through the whistle his daughter had. This ultimately refines the prisoners theme that occurs throughout the film: everyone involved in the movie has personal demons that come head-on, making them all subtly “imprisoned.” Keller is a prisoner within his own family as well as a literal one when abducted by Holly. Detective Loki’s inability to get anywhere positive with the case before turning up at Holly’s house signifies his imprisonment within the scope of his own work. The emotional toil that both families feel make them feel like they are in prison because they cannot enjoy the ideal family life that a typical family would have.
If you are fascinated with the idea of a constant on-your-edge-of-your-seat performance, and also like unique twists on clichéd tropes, then I implore you to give Prisoners a watch.
Until next time folks,