Slave (Darryn Welch, 2009)
What’s really interesting about this movie—and I am not using that word in any sort of ironic sense—is the bait-and-switch Darryn Welch and his marketing folks used here. It’s one of those rare cases where I went into a movie expecting one thing and got another, but then found “another” to be more interesting than “one thing.” That’s happened maybe half a dozen times in my movie-watching career, and it makes me wish even more that this had been a better movie than it is; it had a great deal of potential, most of which went unrealized. But I have to give Darryn Welch a lot of points for trying to do something entirely different from the usual exploitation/torture-porn-wannabe thriller that is all too common these days.
Plot: a father, Robert Dunsmore (Wish You Were Here‘s Michael Maxwell), and son, David (Cruel World‘s Sam Page), have grown up on opposite sides of the Atlantic and in opposite ways. Robert is involved in organized crime; David is an aspiring lawyer. David is also about to get married to the lovely Georgie (Lake Placid‘s Natassia Malthe), who has placed one single stricture on David before they tie the knot: he’s got to take her over to Spain to meet dear old Dad. (He must be over there spending a year dead for tax reasons.) Away they go, but when they get to the ancestral pile, dad’s not around, so they decide to head out to a club. They meet, and hang out with, Alejandro (Serie B‘s Roger Pera), a slimy drug dealer who claims to be a great friend of Robert’s, getting royally pissed along the way (in the British sense of the word). David stumbles off to the restroom to do the kinds of things you do there, leaving Georgie in Alejandro’s seemingly-capable hands…but when he gets back, she has disappeared, and Alejandro claims to have never met her. The next morning, both Robert and the police seem entirely uninterested in helping David find her, so it’s left to him to track down Alejandro, find out what’s really going on, and recover his lady.
Welch is definitely going for something different here; this is far more talk-piece than it is action thriller, working in the mind-game realm more than anything during its first half. Then comes the second, and the movie starts on its way down the hill. For one thing, I can’t tell if some of the movie’s characterizations of its bad guys are incompetently racist, or just racist in general. (I ended up not wanting to think about it too hard.) For another, the movie moves from the interesting and cerebral into the generic-action-thriller, which was quite the letdown. And then… the climax. Oh, man, the climax. I understand what Welch was trying to do there, and while the symbolism was a little heavy-handed, it did make sense. But the contortions he had to go through in order to get there are ridiculous (any time your movie forces you to insert a flashback-from-another-character’s-perspective scene to explain a character’s actions, either your script has failed or you’re not giving your audience enough credit for understanding said character’s motivation). Still, I found it worth watching for the portion of its first half after Georgie disappears. **