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Prisoners (2013): A Review


Denis Villeneuve Creates a Horror That Could Happen

Director Denis Villeneuve takes a horrifyingly real concept and does what many can’t stomach with Prisoners. What many call an Oscar snub has turned into a cult classic. This feature film is mainly about the weight of guilt and sorrow that keeps parents imprisoned when their child is lost. Prisoners primarily follows Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), the father of one of the lost children, and the detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) investigating the disappearance. 

As the film progresses, tensions rise, and patience runs low, with some characters showing more irritation than others. The search begins with a dark tone accented by a foreboding soundtrack of thumps and booms. Prisoners is a film that takes a down-to-earth concept, the horrific subject of those who lost their children and the insanity of those stealing the children, and blows it up to the highest proportions. 

Nothing but Rising Tension

With Prisoners, the ability to grip the concept and think about it as a possible reality is a challenge to the viewer. For parents, it’s a hard movie to watch. But one can appreciate the story for what it is once the audience realizes it is fiction. The beginning shows a happy family having a fun day with friends. However, this quickly turns into terror as the children of both families are lost. Subsequently, the story transitions to the detective’s official investigation and the parents’ increasing frustration with the investigation. 

The film keeps its tone and only changes it when a discovery is made in the case, which are mostly gruesome. The movie felt grounded in its approach to reality, with the dynamic between parent and investigator. The rawness of Hugh Jackman’s character added to the feeling of being grounded. Fundamentally in Prisoners, two side stories come together in the end to make a main story.  

The way these side stories are tied up is interesting and something the audience would never expect. This is due to the vile and stomach-turning concept behind the capture of the children. For the most part, the film takes place in a bleak setting that mirrors the situation, with added effects such as rain accentuating moments of sadness and worry. The film feels progressively terrifying, as exhibited by the characters and potentially by the audience. Ultimately, Prisoners proves to be a masterpiece in storytelling.


Performances Overlooked?

This film has great acting from its main characters and antagonists. Hugh Jackman does the majority of excellent acting. He portrays the father of a lost child, which must be a terrifying portrayal as he is a father himself. Jake Gyllenhaal also does a great job portraying an achievement-hungry detective obsessed with his work. Even the way he blinks tells a story of his hunger for admiration from his peers. One of the best acting highlights is Dover and Loki’s argument in the car. 

Paul Dano also earns an honorable mention for his performance. He excelled at his ability to sell the creepiness of a ten-year-old trapped in a grown man’s body. Bigger-named actors like Viola Davis also made an appearance. And they, too, did their job well, regardless of their limited screen time. The level of performance shows a lot about the style of directing director Villeneuve uses to get the best out of his actors, pushing them to do what they thought couldn’t be done. All in all, the casting for the movie was done exceptionally well, bringing out some of the actor’s best performances. 

An Emotional Roller Coaster 

Prisoners turned out to be a phenomenal movie that flew under the radar at the time of its release. No matter how terrifying it is, it’s one of those films that keeps the audience glued to the screen, wanting to know what happens next. So, the audience already feels the story’s impact when the credits roll. The rewatchability factor is hard to pinpoint. For many, it may feel as if the first viewing was really good. On the other hand, the film is so impactful that it can be hard to sit through the emotional roller coaster again. 


Prisoners is mesmerizing and jaw-droppingly good. The film deserved more appreciation during its release time, for sure. Prisoners is now streaming on Netflix and Prime Video.


Prisoners (2013) Official Warner Bros. Pictures Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Andres E. Gonzalez-Ortiz

Hi! I am a Dramatic Writing and Performing Arts major at SCAD from Puerto Rico. I have an intense passion for all things film, tv, and music. I believe everyone has a story to tell, and putting it out there is the most important.