#Captured (2017) Directed by Joe Homokay. Starring Brittany Curran, Julian Curtis and Kirsten Prout. A group of high school students post their drug and sex-fueled parties to an online pay per view streaming site, which enrages a homicidal maniac on a mission to purge the Internet of all sin.
Our adventure begins with a first-person POV shot of a user logging on to a computer and bringing up a video chat service called Peeper. A young woman named Nicole in denim shorts and a bra is offering her viewers a look at her nude body if they fill her account with $500 bucks. We see the horny users commenting on the left side of the screen as the account balance rises on the right.
She begins the chat by saying: “My daddy is away right now…”
Typically, the opening scene of a horror film is meant to grab you. Friday The 13th, Scream, Halloween and countless others have instantly memorable beginnings. This is the welcome mat of the film, and it’s here that you decide if you actually want to walk through the front door. With #Captured, we have endless moments of zero camera movement. After the killer walks into the room and sits down, his POV is completely fixed and it’s rather dull to stare at. Maybe the cameraman left his digital camera on a tripod and went to lunch. It’s bad enough that horror movies built around the Internet have a knack for sucking, but on top of that they’ve taken away any signs of movement or life. After six minutes of this motionlessness, there’s a cut to Nicole’s bedroom window, as if a stalker is peering in. Just as the blonde is about to take off her panties, the bedroom door is kicked in and a man growls: “Daddy’s home!”
She is thrown to the floor and swiftly stabbed several times. Nicole reaches out to the webcam with bloody hands and moans: “Help me.”
Afterwards, we get to know our killer. In his private office, he has a bulletin board with photos of his intended prey and yellow sticky notes with messages like: KILL THEM.
Is that a thing now? Are serial killers using reminder notes in case they forget what to do when they find a victim?
Our madman is wearing a GoPro on his forehead and holding a machete while explaining to us that he has remote access to the desktops of 8 students from the local private school, Agora Heights Academy. He can root through all their emails and purchases and chats. Using this highly illegal spyware, he has deduced that seemingly wholesome senior Ashley Duncan (Lizzie Gordon, who also wrote the film) had an affair with her married soccer coach. He watches Ashley’s video diaries, in which she describes being pulled out of her former high school over the affair rumors and forced to attend Agora. She has no friends now and her therapist recommended recording video diaries.
On the Academy campus, the killer activates a camera equipped drone and flies it overhead to watch a conversation between students Brock and Jen over the recent exploits of Nicole. They believe the murder was faked as some form of performance art for her viewers. This scene is made up of smartphone video and drone footage.
The drone stuff is meaningless. There’s a scene where the killer gets the flying device out of his truck and sends it into the sky, where it simply records him from above having a conversation. We see the top of his head as he rants on about purity. I could understand if the drone was flying into bedrooms of potential targets or being used in any way as a storytelling tool, but that’s not the case. In Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch, the drone is a part of the story. The characters use it to scout out terrain in a forest that has notoriously gotten hikers lost and walking in circles. It serves a real purpose. In #Captured, someone probably had one laying around and thought it would look cool.
Brock, Jen, Hailey, Tony and Cade make up a posse of popular kids with the very unfortunate name Hashtag Squad. But using that horrendous title, let’s give the maniac stalking them a moniker other than “the killer.”
Let’s call him Slashtag.
As Brock and Jen talk, bleach blonde Hailey pops into the conversation from the beach, and they weigh in on Nicole’s possibly faked death. Despite the necessity of keeping their sex streaming videos a secret because some of the participants are under 18, Hailey loudly discusses it in a public place.
They agree to try and find a new performer to replace Nicole, who they believe has gone off the rails with cocaine. Brock’s parents are going out of town, so a new party video will be shot at his house.
“Looks like Operation Replace-A-Bitch has begun.”
It seems pretty obvious who that replacement will be, as we immediately cut to Ashley cutting class and wandering the halls of Agora in her uniform. She is caught by a teacher, and we jump to rich girl Hailey snapping selfies as she hangs out with Jen. In the parking lot of the school, Jen is snorting lines of coke from the rear bumper of Hailey’s Range Rover. Oversexed, disaffected and wealthy kids doing bad things? It’s like Bret Easton Ellis made a slasher movie.
Two worlds collide when Ashley accidentally leads the pursuing teacher to Hailey and Jen. Quick thinking by Ashley saves the two girls and causes the teacher to lose interest, and Hailey is grateful. The most curious aspect of all this is that it is entirely shot on Hailey’s smartphone. Why would someone record themselves having conversations when they aren’t even looking into the camera? We cut back to the stupid drone footage again as Slashtag talks about the need to kill both Hailey and Jen because they are human viruses who corrupt everything around them.
On a deserted area of shoreline, the killer takes photos of Nicole’s dead body and then buries her.
At Hailey’s house, Ashley drinks vodka cocktails and tells Jen and Hailey about the affair with her former coach as Jen records the conversation. Tech expert Cade chimes in with a video call, followed by long-haired surfer Tony and clean cut Brock. They make Ashley pinky swear to not spill the beans about the big secret, and she’s totally cool with it.
We jump to Slashtag, who is reading the Bible and listening to classical music in front of his desktop monitor when Ashley and pals go live on Peeper. During the streaming session, Jen is ordered to take off her top and bra and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. She complies. Meanwhile, the puritanical murderer begins sending lewd messages to Brock through dead Nicole’s social media account.
This scene, a static shot of a chat window, ranks as the most boring thing I’ve ever seen. And I recently watched acrylic paint dry. Fake Nicole threatens to expose the fact that Brock enjoys gay sex, which angers him.
After Brock sends back a series of bland threats, Slashtag posts a photo of Nicole’s dead body and explains that he will turn over the threats to the police to frame Brock for the killing. Genius move, unless Brock takes a screenshot of the sentence where ol’ Slashy explains all that.
Brock still thinks that Nicole is faking it and wearing corpse makeup. He invites Ashley, Jen, Tony, Cade and Hailey over for a big party at his place. Tony is bringing the drugs, Cade has the tech gear and Brock is providing the mansion. As Ashley gets ready for the night ahead, we learn that she’s not the innocent ingenue that we expect of a Final Girl. In fact, she’s not even a good person. She belittles her concerned mother and fully embraces that fact that she’s going to have sex on camera and take drugs with people she barely knows.
Hailey leaves her unattended car running as she steps out to pick up Ash. Ridiculously, Slashtag leaps into the backseat and hunkers down. Based on the interior design of the car, there’s no way he wouldn’t be spotted. At Brock’s huge home, the girls get glammed up and put on provocative outfits. Viewers begin commenting and paying to watch to the tune of $ 8,806 bucks and counting. Ashley is ultimately turned off by the experience and walks out. Tony follows her and has his throat slit by Slashy.
41 minutes in and this is only the second death.
When I heard a character (Brock, in this case) describe the party as “drug and sex-fueled” before it happens, I had a different vision in my head than what actually transpires. I’m picturing complete Bacchanalian anarchy, with tons of inebriated people and erotic debauchery. I’m thinking Neve Campbell pouring champagne on Denise Richard’s naked body in Wild Things, or Jessica Biel having sex with the entire school football team in Rules Of Attraction. This isn’t that. It’s basically Cade sitting on a couch recording with a laptop while Jen and Hailey harmlessly lock lips. I mean, they weren’t even drinking beers.
Inside the house, money flows in as Jen and Hailey kiss and strip. All of this is presented in the most deadly dull fashion on Cade’s cluttered laptop screen, with various apps and video windows open. Brock ventures outside to check on Tony and is strangled into unconsciousness. After watching the girls frolic through a window, Slashtag bursts in and attacks Cade.
What follows is oddly structured, disjointed and involves, even more, drone footage. The big party usually happens at the end of the film, where the killer is revealed and the heroine stands up to them. Here, the bash takes place in Act Two. And we learn that Slashy believes his drone is “God’s Eye.” A holy drone? That’s a new one on me.
At one point, Ashley got notifications on her social media feed at the exact same moment a friend commented on one of my posts on Twitter, resulting in momentary confusion. This was the most fun I had with this colorless, weak mess of a motion picture. While Ashley was texting, I was also texting. Wow! It’s like I’m somehow IN the movie. Hopefully, someone kills me before the end.
Sadly, I made it through.
As a meditation on an age where many thoughtlessly surrender their privacy in the daily act of publicizing their lives on social media, no matter who may be out there watching, #Captured offers no food for thought. Slashtag, with his Bible and ramblings about good and evil, doesn’t say anything original on the topic of culturally driven moral degradation. He’s a cookie cutter fanatic stalking cardboard cliches in a film that feels like the one-thousandth photocopy of something stronger.