Directed by Yann Gozlan.
Starring Zoé Félix, Eric Savin, Arié Elmaleh, Ivan Franek, Philippe Krhajac and Igor Skreblin.
In war torn Eastern Europe humanitarian aid worker Carole (Félix) and two colleagues are held captive within an isolated underground bunker by a brutal group of armed, masked assailants.
Cynophobia is the abnormal fear of dogs. Not as glamorous as being scared of snakes and spiders, but far better than ornithophobia (a fear of birds, Hitchcock notwithstanding). Caged opens with a rather extreme example of how cynophobia can develop. Our protagonist, Carole (Zoé Félix), as a young girl, finds her best friend mauled to death by a dog during a childhood game of hide-and-seek. Carole locks herself inside a car to escape, unfortunately providing a front-seat view of the vicious beast clawing at the windscreen. The relentless barks, as is the film’s sound design in general, are very effective. You can’t help but think, “kids and animals in your first scene? Ambitious.”
It explains Carole’s fear of dogs later on in the film and adds an extra dimension to when she finds herself trapped with a young girl. Arguably, it would have been more intriguing for the reasons for her cynophobia to be revealed through the repeating nightmare sequences she experiences, rather than unambiguously in the opening five minutes, but alas. Carole is afraid of dogs and lost a childhood friend. Boom. The cards are on the table.
After this brief prologue, we join Carole 20 years later. She’s an aid worker in former Yugoslavia, a region ripe with evil accent opportunities. She leaves for Kosovo with her co-workers Mathias (Eric Savin) and Samir (Arié Elmaleh). The latter wants in to Carole’s pants, but they’re friendship is good enough for that not to complicate things. As they drive, a gang of masked men ambush their car. They’re a cross between Scarecrow and Slipknot.
This is where the ‘caged’ part of the film comes in. All three wake up in a basement complex of cells after their abduction. They know neither where they are nor why. A fierce pack of dogs can be heard every time the basement’s entrance is opened. Through it come two guards to routinely feed and abuse their prisoners, but, our protagonists notice, still keep them alive. It must be a simple ransom game. If only…
A telephone’s ring changes their assumptions. It’s an order – not in a command way, more of a ‘take-away’ way (think: Chicken Tikka-Masala with a Peshwari Naan, collection only). A prisoner is taken to the room at the end of the corridor, to return on a cart, all opened up with their organs missing. It’s how you wished they treated Keira Knightly in Never Let Me Go.
Caged is quite a predictable horror/thriller film in two ways. Firstly, it’s structured routinely for its genre (kidnap – imprisonment – confusion – realisation – attempted escape – etc), but this can be forgiven. Secondly, however, we’re given the answers for everything almost immediately after they’re presented to us. In the case of Carole’s cynophobia, it’s revealed even before dogs are a problem. The film simply needed to be more discreet about the narrative twists for it to be a gripping thriller, but it instead preferred to focus on escape attempts and things of that ‘exciting’ ilk. The narrative just isn’t intriguing enough.
It’s frustrating because there’s a decent film somewhere here. Sure it’s a bit generic-by-numbers, but Félix provides a strong central performance and the sound effects genuinely stand out. Unfortunately, the director never seems to get over his fixation on flashy camera and editing techniques to ever foster a truly unsettling atmosphere.