The film opens with a scene that is deeply apocalyptic and foreboding. It is set in the woods in winter with barren trees on a dismal and bleak landscape interspersed with snow. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) shoots a deer with his son, passing on his pessimistic view of the world to his child. This is a very effective prelude to the film and sets the tone.
The harsh weather is a very successful use of symbolism throughout the movie as it intensifies the feeling of impending doom. The film is as visually dark as its theme – child abduction.
There is also a significant use of religious symbolism throughout the film and the opening scene is accompanied by Dover intensely reciting the Our Father. The film progresses to the Dover family sharing Thanksgiving celebrations with neighbours.
Both families have young daughters, six years olds, Anna and Joy. On the day in question the girls go back to the Dover house to retrieve a toy and the extreme terror is utterly palpable as both families soon realize that the girls have been abducted.
Enter detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal).The subsequent recollections of the event leads to the recalling that an old RV has been parked in the area that day. The police chase it to owner Alex (Paul Dano). Alex is questioned and released as there is insufficient evidence to secure his arrest – he is an unlikely suspect as he has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old child.
Both families are taken to the brink of insanity as their affliction and the reality of the situation becomes overwhelming. Dover is a man possessed and is utterly convinced that Alex is responsible for the disappearances. He is increasingly frustrated by the bureaucracy of the police investigation as the days are going by and hope is dissolving. He becomes a vigilante and in turn abducts Alex and brings him to an abandoned property and proceeds to torture him for days in vain attempt to make him tell of the girls' whereabouts.
As the film transpires it becomes clear that Alex is as much a victim in the whole affair, as those responsible for the abductions are discovered and the depths and 26 years of depravities become clear.
Prisoners is an intelligent film and the fragility of the human condition is illuminated when all faith in humanity is obliterated in seconds. It is tense, raw, gripping and a hard going thriller.
The religious symbolism in this film is particularly clever as the theme of warring against God is frequently visited and discussed. It is an eye for an eye scenario in a very biblical context, as a devoted father pays the ultimate price in attempt to protect him child.
Prisoners is completely compelling and gripping throughout. It is a very significant film and not for the faint hearted, as the torture scenes are graphically intense.