Studio: MarVista Entertainment
Director: Maggie Kiley
Writer: Marcy Holland
Producer: Jennifer Westin
Stars: Anna Camp, Stefanie Scott, Sam Page, Amelia Rose Blaire, Mary McCann, Rod McLachlan, Nick Roux
A prank spirals increasingly out of control when a socialite wife decides to kidnap her husband’s teenage mistress.
“Caught” is what a Lifetime thriller would look like if a tranquil John Waters tried turning the network’s brand of suburban suspense into an almost R-rated black comedy. That’s a somewhat nutty analogy, but “Caught” is a somewhat nutty movie, crying out for a categorization as offbeat as its style.
When picture-perfect socialite Sabrina discovers her handsome husband Justin is cheating with teenage student Allie, she cons her eager-to-please sister Paige into helping on a harebrained conspiracy to teach Allie a lesson. Sabrina and Paige kidnap the unsuspecting sidepiece and tie her up in the family attic. Before their cruel fun can conclude, Justin returns home unexpectedly, sending the sisters into a tailspin of “what should we do?” panic. That initial flake of an ill-intentioned prank soon snowballs into a mountain-sized avalanche, consuming Sabrina, Paige, Justin, Allie, and anyone unfortunate enough to stumble into their orbit.
Allie isn’t your average high school hussy hellbent on forbidden flings with married men. Allie is a misinformed mistress mistakenly presuming her older boyfriend is simply busy at the office most evenings. When Paige realizes how naively sweet Allie really is, desires for vicarious revenge go up in the smoke of newfound doubt. Too bad by that point, the scheming sisters are already up to their eyelash extensions in irreversible troubles.
Opening on Allie, “Caught” fashions an initial character as confusing as she is confused. The girl is some sort of track star at school, but failed promises to turnabout failed grades see Allie booted from the team, a secret she keeps from a well-meaning mother forced to burden her daughter with additional waitress shifts to make their ends meet. Allie’s pouting paired with poor academic performance makes her indifferently appealing as a heroine. What is the point of this origin and what exactly is intended to attach anybody to this person?
Allie’s affair with Justin is also creepier than it should be. Stefanie Scott’s cherubic cheeks make her seem younger than she is while Sam Page’s grey-flecked temples make him appear even older. Their disparate age difference has an uncomfortable vibe when a movie with this sly streak of surreal humor could instead afford their relationship some Lolita-like sexiness.
Luckily, despite a first focus that would have you think otherwise, Allie isn’t the true centerpiece of “Caught.” That tiara is triumphantly worn by Sabrina.
No doubt about it, “Caught” is an Anna Camp highlight reel. Certainly not to be outdone, each actress has a white-knuckled grip on playing her mildly exaggerated archetype with perfectly-tuned aplomb. (If any Casting Director out there is reading this, Mary McCann ought to be at the top of any list when it comes to filling a working class mother role.)
But Camp is the headlining attraction as Sabrina. Extending her persona as vampophobic preacher Steve Newlin’s wife on “True Blood,” Camp perfects the thousand-yard stare of a blank-faced beauty so enraptured by an imaginary ideal that murder makes sense as a means of securing her fairy tale fantasy. Sabrina is as obnoxious and as annoying as trophy wives usually are, but her callous determination is nothing to be trifled with. Just as likely to have a cake in the oven as a corpse in the closet, think of her as uptight Alison from “Orphan Black” if the clone were corrupted by the glamour of a “Real Housewives” lifestyle.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a female-focused film, the weak link is Sam Page of “Mad Men” as Justin. His nondescript presence nearly fits as a vapid adulterer suddenly complicit in a cover-up and inexplicably quick to comply when his wife wants to start burying bodies. But the deeper the movie digs into this arena of absurdity, the more it takes a King Solomon approach to keeping everyone in the audience on board with its themes.
“Caught” requires responding amenably to hyper-real scenarios and caricature characters. Although “inspired by a true story” from a UK article about teenagers kidnapping a conniving friend, little in “Caught” would go down the same way in reality, though it somehow makes strange sense given the movie’s mood where preposterous becomes probable. With Anna Camp and her co-star cohorts there to handhold you through the increasing insanity, logic issues (and there are plenty of them) are more easily ignored as unimportant to the overall entertainment experience.
Relatively fresh as a feature film director, Maggie Kiley has a partially shaky hand on maintaining the movie’s rhythm. “Caught” is constructed nonlinearly, and while the storytelling requires back gaps to be filled in piecemeal, flashback placement is occasionally miscued, making for instances of initially-foggy dot connecting that don’t fully work in the film’s favor.
Yet with the film bearing a character-driven core, Kiley’s previous acting experience comes into play in the more critical category of finely tuning performances. Where Kiley excels is in demonstrating remarkable steadiness at keeping a difficultly balanced tone positioned with precision between camouflaged camp and snark-infused suspense. This mania is mild-mannered, not madcap. Retaining good humor without being cartoonishly comical is a tricky maneuver, and Kiley keeps the hijinks at top speed lunacy without compromising the horror in the happenings.
For “Caught,” this assured confidence trumps even a script over-reliant on the repeated plot beat of Allie escaping only to be recaptured again. And again. And again.
Even while leaning heavily on a suspension of disbelief certain to shatter for some, “Caught” is relentless in its charm as well as its pace. Sometimes discombobulated to eye-rolling extremes, “Caught” remains oddly intoxicating, with endless credit due to a terrific cast spearheaded by Anna Camp and slick style from a fully committed director.
Review Score: 75