Caged (2011)

Never take the shortcut. It’s a simple rule if you don’t want to be horribly killed. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam (Wrong Turn) or want to get home quicker for Christmas (Wind Chill) or you’re late to a concert (Hell’s Ground), do NOT take the short cut. In Caged, three French medical missionaries working in Kosovo find their route home cut off by a U.N. bomb squad, so rather than wait three hours for them to make the road safe, they take a “short cut” that leads back round to the main road. Or does it? Of course not…

Soon the humanitarian aid-workers find themselves lost and in trouble. Two gun-totting nutters kidnap them and throw them into a van, driving them to a remote farm where they’re – you guessed it – caged. But why are they there? Who are their captors? And can they escape before their insides become their outsides?!

Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s about as original as an unstoppable masked killer or a haunted mental asylum, but Caged is not trying to be startlingly original. Apparently based on true events (another cliché box ticked there) it’s a story that focuses on Carole (Zoé Félix), a woman haunted by her past. If you want originality, then go elsewhere, because Caged will irritate those desperate for freshness. It is by no means stale, but the story is traditional and uninspired.

Acting wise, the film is subtly underplayed and works very well. The main three captives, played by Zoe Felix, Eric Savin and Arié Elmaleh, are believable and likeable and much more human than the characters in other “kidnapped by flesh-butchers” flicks such as Train and Hostel. They are adults and desperate to escape, and not motivated to get instant revenge on their captives with a chainsaw. Coupled with the very efficient and disturbingly realistic portrayal of their captors, it makes an immensely watchable if unchallenging story.

Caged surprises on a number of levels, most notably the sudden bursts of violence or horror. Much like the work of Guillermo del Toro and Michael Haneke the violence is brutal and extreme, but not overwhelming or story-driving like the work of Eli Roth. It is not glorified and exists to shape and move the story along. Again, if you prefer your “captured and murdered” films filled with vivid gore and bouncing breasts, then Caged is not for you…

One clear problem with Caged is a genuine lack of wonder or intrigue. Yes, you will definitely wonder HOW they can possibly escape their cages, but the real question should be WHY they’ve been kidnapped, but this is never really treated as a secret. I won’t spoil it for you now, but their antagonists’ reasons become obvious within minutes of them being captured. It’s a shame this wasn’t left to be more ambiguous, as it sucks out all tension until they begin with their escape attempts…

Caged is an impressive debut for writer / director Yann Gozlan, who proves his ability to take a tired tale and give it pace and genuine tension. His ability to make a ringing wall-phone inject fear into you is impressive. Gozlan’s directorial technique is similar to other breakout French horror directors such as Alexandre Aja and David Moreau & Xavier Palud, who gave us the superb Switchblade Romance (Haute Tension) and Them (Ils) respectively. These are arid films, with a yellowy, haunting cinematography and a dirty, claustrophobic feel throughout and are hugely atmospheric. Hopefully we will see more from Gozlan in the future and I pray he doesn’t follow the route of his fellow countrymen and end up helming Hollywood stinkers like Mirrors and The Eye.

Overall Caged is an enjoyable genre flick that treads old ground efficiently and professionally. It will never become a classic or be seen as groundbreaking, but it’s certainly watchable, tense, brutal and fantastically well crafted. Not for those who only seek originality or want their horrors splashed with blood and boobs, but definitely a decent addition to the French horror film canon. Caged is a quality little horror.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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