Everyone remembers where they were when it first dawned on them that the ’80s action classic Die Hard is actually a Christmas movie. The notion initially seemed quite perverse, but amongst all the blood, sweat and carnage was the story of a broken family reunited that left you with a warm, fuzzy feeling akin to a dozen viewings of It’s A Wonderful Life. It made for an oddly titillating juxtaposition, the gaudy, lavish trappings of the Yuletide season serving as a blood-soaked backdrop for semi-camp terrorist antics overseen by a gaggle of Eurotrash mercenaries. Director Daniel Aylett plays gleefully on this novelty in horror short Captured, although his script comes with neither Die Hard’s cheesy thrills nor a similarly cosy conclusion, tipping its hat instead to the sparse aesthetics of found-footage blockbusters Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity.
Every frame of Captured is viewed through the lens of the largely unseen Jackson, the youngest in an almost sickeningly perfect Australian-American clan. The film opens with Jacko grappling with his new camcorder on Christmas Day, while his catalogue model parents look on with perma-white smiles. He’s soon determined to cover everything that day, including a mysterious journey spearheaded by his playful father. Tensions arise during their trip through the sun-soaked Aussie countryside as his parents and sister clash over a proposed to relocation to America. Of perhaps greater concern, however, is the unidentified flying object Jackson glimpses briefly in the sky.
The care taken to develop the familial dynamics at hand pays dividends come the film’s climax – a tense, if familiar, close encounter of the knuckle-biting kind in what seems like a barren woodland cul-de-sac. With the parents reiterating that “everything will be fine” to the point of redundancy, and Jackson making ample use of his camera’s ‘night vision’ setting, Aylett is undoubtedly exploring well-trod territory, so it’s to his credit that the final reel remains so compelling. The characterisation is strong, but not overly defined, allowing for some chilling ambiguity with regards to one family member’s motivations to emerge on repeated viewings. What’s most impressive, however, is that by putting the camera in the hand of a curious child, Aylett’s script presents the age-old question of “Who the hell would keep filming in such traumatic circumstances?” with a resolution of forehead-slapping simplicity. The film’s taut and ambitious nature is also reflected in Mati Obrzud’s surprisingly deft special effects. As indie exercises in horror go, Captured is appropriately captivating.