“Prisoners” is a deep, dark film, with enough angry violence to make you squirm and wince. The plot is a puzzle, which, with patience, will pay off for attentive audience members. This is despite a few twists and turns to nowhere.
The story opens on Thanksgiving Day, when two 8-year-old girlfriends (Erin Gerasimovich and Kyle Drew-Simmons) step outdoors and don’t return. Their families, the Dovers and the Birches, are thrown into chaos and confusion, focusing on a strange Recreational Vehicle, on which the girls were seen climbing.
Ace abduction detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is soon on the case. Before long, he has located the RV and hauled its operator in for questioning. The suspect is a young adult, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), with the mental capacity of a 10 year old. Unable to connect Alex to the kidnapping, Loki releases him, igniting the fury of Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), the father of one of the victims. In fact, the frustrated father is so infuriated that he kidnaps Alex, putting him into a makeshift Abu Ghraib-type torture chamber in an abandoned home. He beats the man-child bloody, hoping to extract the whereabouts of the girls.
Meanwhile, Loki is pursuing a gaunt hooded figure, which he spotted at a street shrine set up for the missing girls. Other leads also abound; one involving a burned, dead body found in the basement of a pedophile priest. And, yes, there is another kidnapping.
Directed by Dennis Villeneuve (“Incendies”) from an Aaron Guzikowski script, “Prisoners” is a creep-show, made creepier by the dank, dismal photography of Roger A. Deakins (“No Country for Old Men”).
Jackman’s enraged dad peaks out early and keeps his boiling point bubbling. He’s such a bully, that he almost seems like a bad guy. Dano remains blank, a pathetic human punching bag.
“Prisoners,” however, belongs to Gyllenhaal. As a brilliant detective without a personal life, he operates on instinct and holds the story together. He has a twitch in his eyes, which is never addressed.
Go see “Prisoners.” Get lost in the labyrinth. Have fun finding your way out.