Caged is a gripping thriller that tackles the devastating psychological impact of solitary confinement on prison inmates. The pre-credits card notes there are hundreds of thousands of convicts suffering in such conditions. It is a medieval form of torture that writer-director Aaron Fjellman depicts with a harrowing intensity, bolstered by Edi Gathegi’s frenetic lead performance.
Fjellman slams into the narrative with almost no introduction which is more perplexing for the viewer than an interesting artistic choice. Dr. Harlow Reid (Gathegi) is wrongfully convicted for the death of his wife, Amber (a luminous Angela Sarafyan) and sentenced to solitary confinement because of an incident in the prison yard. Even worse, just as he was about to file his appeal, he lost representation because attorneys view him as a lost cause.
Reid does not always face devastating isolation; he also squares off against Officer Sacks (Melora Hardin), a cruel, sadistic prison guard who takes pleasure in tormenting her inmates in order to twist confessions out of them. Reid’s persistent plea of innocence galvanises Sacks to torture him even more. Hardin plays her with hard stoniness, making her a strong foil to Reid as she slowly whittles his sanity.
The best scenes in Caged depict Reid’s erratic consciousness. Fjellman crafts a hazy, discordant mise en scène that features trippy sequences that occasionally veer into supernatural horror. Gathegi’s unerring performance is the film’s nucleus; he captures Reid’s thinning lunacy and the devastating impact of solitary confinement with a committed ferocity. At times the film’s dourness can be somewhat grating and repetitive, but the grim sensibility works to truly place the audience within Reid’s anguished shoes. Fjellman also breaks up the action with some violent flashbacks to the day of his wife’s death that muddies the truth. Held together by a bravura lead performance, Caged is a hard-hitting thriller about the fragility of the human condition within such a monstrous method of punishment.
Caged is available on VOD now
by Caroline Madden
Caroline is the author of Springsteen as Soundtrack. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Baby It’s You, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She is the Editor in Chief of Video Librarian. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss.