Innovation is a rarity in most films because it’s usually trumped by laziness. It’s especially true with genre flicks that hew close to an established structure. Movies of the ‘kidnap and torture’ variety more often than not share common setups and resolutions and only differ slightly in the back story of the characters and the pain inflicted. Once in a while though, a movie comes along that gives a much needed twist to a genre convention. Victim is one such example, but unfortunately that fresh take comes at the expense of engaging characters, logic, predictability, and convincing acting.
Opening credits inter-cut with a motel room assault captured on home video give way to a young man (Stephen Weigand) sitting alone at a bar. A few minutes of small talk later he’s walking alone to his car when he’s attacked by two men and disappeared into the night. He awakens as a prisoner in a basement cell and is greeted by his two captors. Dr. Volk (Bob Bancroft) immediately gives off some serious mad doctor vibes, but the real threat comes from the large and silent Mr. George (Brendan Kelly). Over the next several days (and weeks?) the man will be burnt, injected, beaten, and more as the doctor’s science project heads towards a conclusion. Who are thee people to each other? Why is this happening? Who’s the real victim? And what happens when you trade in your hot dog for a taco?
The bulk of the film consists of the captive man whimpering, the crazy man talking to a concealed figure, audio of a young girl chattering, and the silent man, well, remaining silent, but a small subplot does worm its way in to the mix. It seems a female detective has begun to suspect foul play and is zeroing in on the good doctor’s abode. If this sounds like a solid setup for a mystery or thriller it’s because it is. At first. There are two major problems though that quickly and irrevocably sink the film.
First, some subtle (and some incredibly obvious) hints give away the doctor’s grand plan well in advance of the film actually revealing it. Hopes for there being more to the story are dashed, and instead we’re given a third act that plays out almost exactly as expected. And that leads into problem number two… you just won’t care about anyone or anything that happens to them.
The man being subjected to the torture is too lacking in personality and identity for the viewer to find anything approaching empathy for him, and the doctor is just plain goofy. The blame is probably equally shared between the script’s dialogue and Bancroft’s performance, but either way the character just feels too cartoonish to take seriously.
Directors Matt Eskandari and Michael Pierce show promise with the film that will hopefully come to fruition on their next project, but they just can’t make it work here. Characters and story need more than a slight mystery holding them together for the viewer to truly feel engaged. The film aims to exceed the genre trappings but instead ends up as something that will only appeal to fans with those very expectations. Maybe. Blood and squirm-inducing operations are scattered about, but there aren’t so many as to overwhelm. Which of course leaves the viewer with those damn characters they just won’t care about…
The Upside: Interesting twist on the usual ‘kidnap and torture’ plot-line
The Downside: We never really get to know the film’s only true victim; Bancroft plays the mad doctor a bit too silly to ever feel threatening; most of the film feels obvious and mapped out by the thirty minute mark