On the way back from a celebration in Canada, a carload of young people find themselves stopped at what appears to be a border checkpoint. The usage of "appears to be" should be noted, as it gradually becomes clear that there's nothing official about this stop. It's manned by Samuel (LaFortune) and Walter (Devine), two former soldiers whose Middle East experiences - along perhaps with a tour of duty in Guantanamo - have left them thoroughly damaged, and ferociously xenophobic. Believe there's more to this than a returning group of guests, they abduct them and begin a brutal sequence of interrogations in their remote cabin, designed to get to the bottom of what they perceive as a terrorist plot. Eventually, the worried families hire a private detective to track down the missing persons; on encountering Samuel and Walter, he senses something not right about the pair (which isn't exactly difficult) and plots to return to the location to investigate further.
The first chunk of this is extraordinarily tense, with the initial interrogation at the checkpoint a masterpiece of escalating violence, both psychological and physical. Once the predicament of the captives becomes clear, it's a slow descent into hell - though the "noise and light" inflicted on them seemed more like the last industrial concert we went to, rather than any kind of genuine harassment (heck, I was almost singing along). The political intent is obvious - Guantanamo-like techniques, applied to Americans - and that's what separates this from the usual torture-porn. However, the film goes off the rails when it abandons the focus, and decides to switch entirely to the detective, who comes over like Lou Reed (complete with drug habit) played by Willem Dafoe. Hardly credible as the person you'd want looking into your child's disappearance. From that point on, the film becomes a good deal less interesting, basically abandoning the victims with whom you've empathized the rest of the film. It's a mis-step from which the film never recovers, and that's unfortunate: reminders of what's being done in our name are never a bad thing.
[November 2011 ]