From the disturbing nuances of Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf (2003), through the convulsive violence of Gaspar Noé and Bruno Dumont to the hypnotic lunacy of Vincent Gallo succumbing to an unexplained bloodlust in Clair Denis’ Trouble Every Day (2001), corporeal shock tactics have been somewhat in vogue over the past decade in France, culminating in what some critics have identified as New French Extremity.
Instead, Caged is a straight cut horror film that might as well have been written for Hollywood. Part of a humanitarian aid group in war-torn Eastern Europe, the film follows a young nurse named Carole, embarking upon a journey to the final segment of her mission before returning home. One standard teen horror style shortcut later, she and her two companion travelers find themselves imprisoned at the mercy of a group of mysterious and dangerous men. Upon their arrival, the captives believe themselves simply to be hostages to be bargained with. When one of them is dragged off-screen, leaving us to witness the remaining two’s reactions to his animalistic cries of pain, they can only wish to be so lucky.
Clearly it would also be unthinkable for Carole, played by a predictably not so unattractive actor, to endure her ordeal without sporting a damp tank-top, that has now become a staple piece of horror iconography. While these irritable lapses in character logic in the film’s second half do unbalance it for the worse, its accomplished cinematography and solid genre conventions just about manage to hold it together to the end credits.
Had Caged maintained an emphasised focus on the stresses of human emotion under such extreme conditions, a more intense, intriguing and sophisticated film may have emerged. Offering little to truly wince at other than a predominantly wasted opportunity, Gozlan’s debut feature, although ultimately unable to terrify, is, if nothing else, entertaining in its movements between claustrophobic anticipation and brutal torture-porn style violence. It just happens to be unfortunate that in this instance, we’ve more than seen it all before.