Atom Egoyan says Cannes reviews for 'The Captive' were his 'worst nightmare'
Director Atom Egoyan speaks during a press conference at the 67th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Friday, May 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, September 3, 2014 7:36AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 3, 2014 1:06PM EDT
TORONTO -- Atom Egoyan says scathing reviews at Cannes for his child-abduction thriller "The Captive" were his "worst nightmare."
The film starring Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos as small-town parents of a vanished daughter premiered at the French film festival earlier this year to a chorus of boos. The Hollywood Reporter called it "preposterous," while the Guardian accused Egoyan of burdening a serious issue with "his own indulgent, naive and exploitative fantasies."
The wave of negative press shocked the Canadian director, who said in a recent interview that he is hopeful mainstream audiences will appreciate the genre-bending film when it opens Friday.
"I was kind of stunned by it," Egoyan said. "A lot of the reviews were just really cruel. I don't understand the charge of it being exploitative because it actually goes to great pains not to be exploitative at all ... It was a pretty extreme reaction."
He added he was grateful to some critics who published positive reviews, such as the Telegraph's Robbie Collin, who called the film "a shiveringly tense abduction thriller: half-opaque and bitingly cold like the surface of a frozen lake."
"If there was an absence of intelligent reviews completely then I would have been really dismayed," said Egoyan. "I wasn't there at the press screening so I don't actually know what happened that morning, but the evening screening was a huge success. We had a total standing ovation. But the morning was obviously like my worst nightmare."
Egoyan hails from Victoria, where he says an ongoing missing-child case sparked the original inspiration for the film. (He asked that the child's name not be published out of respect for the parents.) Egoyan also said he was fascinated by the decades-long case in Cornwall, Ont., where sensational rumours of a pedophile ring could not be ruled out by a public inquiry.
"People's lives have been affected. People are still swirling from the effects and living that. We move on -- our culture, everything moves so fast, but there are people with definite wounded souls that are still trying to negotiate these things," he said.
He began thinking of "The Captive" as a story of three couples: the parents (Reynolds and Enos), the detectives (Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman) and the captor and his captive (Kevin Durand and Alexia Fast). Egoyan enlisted the help of crime novelist David Fraser on the script and met with real child-abduction investigators in Waterloo, Ont.
"What they are doing is really, impossibly difficult," he said. "To watch a victim grow older, see that and not have access, not know where that room is, where that house is, and then to see that young person grow up and disappear from the Internet -- how painful is that?"
Unlike most abduction thrillers, "The Captive" is not a race against time to find the perpetrator and save the girl. Instead, the film opens eight years after Cassandra's disappearance and reveals her as a teenager, still living with her creepy captor and forced to lure other children on the Internet into the mysterious ring he operates.
The film unravels the mystery of her abduction by jumping back and forth through time, without always offering immediate cues to the audience of their temporal position. The most obvious compass is that the character played by Enos meets with Dawson every year on her daughter's birthday.
"I felt I had to go over the scope of these eight years, to show that these people were living in the past and the present at the same time," said Egoyan. "I don't know that there's any other film like it, where it takes place over eight years and you know the child is grown up. There's no urgency. The urgency is not around the plot; it's around the characterization."
Egoyan's earlier films -- most notably 1997's "The Sweet Hereafter" -- are also consumed by the passage of time, the loss of children and the harsh Canadian landscape. But the director says he hopes audiences go into his latest film expecting a genre thriller and are pleasantly surprised.
"I hope that something happens like what happened with 'Exotica.' People think it's a story about a strip club, and then they realize it's something else," he said.
He heaped praise on Reynolds as the despairing father at the heart of "The Captive," saying that his performance will redefine the actor in the eyes of those who still see him as a "rom-com character."
"Of course, I had seen these smaller films like 'Buried' and 'The Nines' ... but he takes it really far here," he said. "He's just so capable of this rich, deep characterization. What he's doing at the end of the film is so subtle and just so interesting."
And despite the negative reviews at Cannes, Egoyan said he wouldn't turn down an offer to screen at the prestigious fest again.
"I've been there six times in competition, and 10 times between Jury and other sections. I had seen it happen to other films, but I didn't think it would happen to one of mine," he said.
"In a way, it's like the best possible exposure for a film, even with this. You would never say no. If you're invited into competition in Cannes, you go. And you take that risk."