Tuesday, June 30, 2009

DVD review: "The Betrayed"

Made on a miniscule budget, "The Betrayed" is a psychological thriller packed with real tension, not to mention a knockout performance by Australian actress Melissa George.

The film is set entirely inside a grimy warehouse. A young woman, Jamie, awakes in a daze. A man behind a door talks to her over an intercom, and explains several things. First, she's his prisoner. Second, her mild-mannered husband is actually a very dangerous man who has stolen millions from a crime syndicate. Third, if she doesn't help him get the money back, both she and her young son will be killed.

Based on that set-up, you might think "The Betrayed" is another flesh-carving entry in the "torture porn" genre. But writer/director Amanda Gusack isn't churning out a cheap "Saw" knockoff. Rather, she methodically ratchets up the dark mood while providing stark glimpses into the minds of both the victim and her tormentor.

George, probably best known for her role on TV's "Alias," is terrific as a woman who surprises her kidnappers, and herself. Filmmakers love to create characters they bill as intelligent, then make them do very dumb things. Despite having her whole world turned upside down, Jamie grows craftier and craftier -- first trying to keep herself and her son alive, and eventually outsmarting those holding her.

The film reminded me very much of "The Usual Suspects" in tone, but with a much smaller cast and a deliberately claustrophobic feel, with literally only a single room and a hallway in which to let the action play out.

Oded Fehr, despite spending most of the movie behind a mask, is frightening yet charismatic as Jamie's captor. As he alternately threatens and reveals bits of himself, Jamie grows less certain about who she can trust.

As for extras: There are none, not even a theatrical trailer. That's a shame, because this tidy thriller deserves better.

Movie: 3.5 stars
Extras: 1 star

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