Something’s in the air: a spine-tingling chill, a foreboding aura, some gloomy sense that bad things are on the horizon. Actually, it’s just the severely solemn voice of Hugh Jackman, glumly reciting a Christian prayer over the austere opening shot of this frequently engrossing yet ultimately ludicrous kidnapping thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve.

The man who shall forever be Wolverine plays Keller Dover, somber patriarch of a suburban Pennsylvania family, whose peaceful Thanksgiving is shattered by tragedy. While he and his wife, Grace (Maria Bello), are visiting their neighbours, Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), the youngest child of each clan goes missing. There’s a sizable clue (a mysterious RV was cruising the neighbourhood just before the disappearances) and a detective, Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is quickly assigned to the case. But Keller is less than satisfied with how the first days of the investigation go, especially after Loki is forced to release low-IQ prime suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano) for lack of usable evidence.

From here things get really biblical, and we’re not just talking about the Virgin Mary statue that’s used for a semi-cheeky jump scare. Villeneuve and the great cinematographer Roger Deakins ensnare their ensemble in a funereal winter purgatory where driving rain, blinding snow and mocking grey skies are a constant. The weather seems like a projection of these characters’ damaged souls as well as a divine taunt; if God is in the details, he’s one cold-blooded mofo to allow this much unchecked pain and suffering.

The uniformly showy performances are what do in Prisoners more than anything. Everyone’s overacting feels like a play with bloated insta-metaphors to bolster a dour, mostly tension-free enterprise. Keith Uhlich

Dir Denis Villeneuve Category IIB, 153 mins, opens on Thu Oct 31


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