The acting is great, the directing is
top-flight, the script is suitably complex, the atmosphere is carefully
creepily nuanced, but this is one depressing film.
And its carefully-orchestrated religious themes are decidedly dark.
Hugh Jackman breaks out of his
super-hero type-casting to play the role of Keller Dover, a working-man
suburbanite who owns his own little carpentry/handyman business.
He has a nice wife, Grace (Maria Bello), a doting teenage son, and a
cute little daughter, and before they all walk down the street to share
Thanksgiving dinner with their friends, the Birch family, Keller takes his son
deer hunting. The film opens with
Keller reciting the Lord’s Prayer just before his son pulls the trigger,
bagging his first kill. They gleefully
bring the fresh venison meat to the Thanksgiving feast at the Birch house.
Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) and his
wife Nancy (Viola Davis) have two daughters, about the ages of the
kids, so they’re all friends together. The
first time the younger girls wanted to get some toys at the other house,
Keller made sure his son went with them. The
second time, the girls decided to go on their own, and nobody realized they
were gone, until…they were gone.
Yes, it’s every parent’s nightmare,
and this happens to all four parents at once. At
first, they are only slightly panicked, thinking they’ll just search the
neighborhood, but then, the horror begins to set in:
the girls have vanished.
The four parents differ greatly in their
just seems stunned into inertia.
is so shell-shocked she can hardly speak. Grace
retreats into sleeping pills. But
Keller is so filled with rage that he doesn’t even bother to contain his
anger, with anyone. And, though a
recovering alcoholic, he starts drinking again.
And when he tries to pray the Lord’s prayer again, this time he
stumbles over, “….As we forgive those….”
Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is
assigned to the case, and he takes that responsibility very seriously.
He spends practically every waking moment those first few days working
the leads, knowing that time is of the essence in a child abduction scenario.
He can’t rule out any possibilities, including the involvement of the
families of the victims. This “waste
of time” makes Keller even more furious, so he decides to take matters into
his own hands, by interrogating a “person of interest” himself.
He becomes obsessed with this, at the expense of abandoning his wife
and son when they could sorely use his emotional support.
He enlists a reluctant
to assist him, and when
finds out about it, she encourages
to help, because now they’re all so incredibly desperate to find their
Director Denis Villeneuve goes for stark
winter landscapes, sleet storms, hard rains, and characters teetering on the
edge of insanity. He’s also unafraid
to introduce religious themes: part of
Loki’s investigation into local sex offenders turns up a priest who kept a
corpse in his basement, claiming the man confessed to abducting children,
defining his despicable behavior as warfare against God.
And it does seem that parents in this kind of extreme emotional
situation, after a few fervent unanswered prayers, do tend to lose their
religion. So is this the work of the
Well, it’s definitely a descent into
the Abyss, both for the characters on the screen, and, by extension, the
viewers. If you can sit through this
one, you will not be unaffected.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St.
Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,