It probably began five years ago with Chloe, his ill-advised remake of Anne Fontaine's Nathalie . . ., though some would date filmmaker Atom Egoyan's troubling, and ongoing, sojourn in the B-movie wilderness as far back as 2005's Where the Truth Lies.
Last year, the Canadian auteur gave us the disappointing crime drama Devil's Knot. He follows up with the equally mediocre The Captive. (Boos greeted it at Cannes; critics have given it an almost unanimous drubbing.)
Like Devil's Knot, which revisited the story of the West Memphis Three, The Captive is based on a series of real crimes by a ring of Canadian pedophiles and child kidnappers. Lurid to a fault, it stars Kevin Durand (The Strain) as a cartoonish evildoer who kidnaps a young girl named Cass (Peyton Kennedy) and holds her for nigh a decade.
How cartoonish is Durand's Mika? So effete he'd make Oscar Wilde blush, he actually twirls his pencil mustache (or did we hallucinate that shot?) and goes into paroxysms of (aesthetic? erotic?) ecstasy whenever he listens to Mozart's The Magic Flute.
Egoyan is more often interested in the aftermath of a disaster than the event itself. His 1997 masterpiece, The Sweet Hereafter, unfolds in the days after a bus crash that kills scores of schoolchildren.
The Captive is no different. Set eight years after the kidnapping, it depicts the pain that Cass' now-divorced parents feel: Mom (Mireille Enos) has tried to move on while Dad (Ryan Reynolds) continues searching for his girl.
For her part, the teenage Cass (Alexia Fast) is strangely compliant and even acts as an accomplice to Mika. (Perhaps Egoyan is trying to show hers is a case of Stockholm syndrome, but his skin-deep presentation misses entirely.)
It seems Mika's real source of pleasure isn't Cass, but the pain he continues to cause her parents. He stalks them, and provokes them by leaving mementos of Cass.
Egoyan uses all the tropes of the TV procedural: We even get a pair of sex-crime-unit detectives (Scott Speedman and Rosario Dawson) who keep the case alive.
For all its problems, The Captive does try to hit the themes that have obsessed Egoyan for three decades: desire, death, memory, and time. His best films - captivating, gorgeous, puzzling poems such as Felicia's Journey and Exotica - play with narrative structure to undermine the idea that time and memory are linear and that human identity is a smooth, unified whole.
The Captive rehearses these ploys, but fails to cohere. And the film's sexual themes feel gratuitous, dirty. Though Egoyan has often used excessive, over-the-top, sexually provocative storylines, he has always kept a critical distance from the hormonal mess he shows us.
Here, he seems to wallow in it.
The Captive *1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Atom Egoyan. With Ryan Reynolds, Mireille Enos, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Durand, Alexia Fast. Distributed by A24.
Running time: 1 hour, 52 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, disturbing sexual themes, profanity).
Playing at: PFS at the Roxy.