Over 80,000 Americans are currently serving time in solitary confinement, each with their own unique story. A new Psychological Thriller entitled Caged, starring the exceptional Edi Gathegi, is the tale of one of these (fictitious) prisoners as he faces a life sentence for murder. Shout! Studios delivers the haunting flick to VOD and Digital beginning on Tuesday, January 26, 2021.
Directed by Aaron Fjellman (Love Tap: The Movie short 2010, Love and Hate TV movie 2014), who co-wrote the screenplay alongside James ‘Doc’ Mason (Trespasses short 2005, Where’s the Cat? short 2018), Caged focuses on an affluent psychiatrist, Dr. Harlow Reid (Gathegi: X-Men: First Class 2011, The Blacklist series), who has been convicted of murdering his wife (Angela Sarafyan: Westworld series, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile 2019). Facing a life sentence in federal prison, Reid soon finds himself inside a solitary confinement cell. As he struggles to file an appeal, he is systematically pushed to the breaking point by an abusive female guard (Melora Hardin: The Office series, Transparent series) who is seemingly hellbent on unleashing her own form of justice.
With the catcalls of a nearby prisoner (James Jagger: Vinyl series, The Outpost 2019) only adding to his trauma, Reid soon begins to descend into madness and begins to question his own innocence. Haunted by his dead wife, struggling to make his case to the warden (Tony Amendola: Annabelle 2014, Once Upon a Time series), and hoping to gain sympathy from a second officer (Robert R. Shafer: Psycho Cop 1989, The Office series), each day drags him further into the blackhole of psychosis.
Twihards—that being the spirited fans of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series and its accompanying films—are likely to recognize Gathegi, who portrayed Laurent in the vampiric franchise, but this is not a rehash of that role. At a succinct 80 minutes (including the end credits), Caged deals with the trauma of incarceration and it does so at a fairly languid pace. This allows viewers to slowly start to wonder if we too are losing our minds, struggling to decide if Reid is innocent, guilty, or if this has all been a horrible nightmare.
It is much in thanks to the talents of the Kenyan-born Gathegi that the story succeeds, as he provides an exemplary character study of a devolving psyche. Initially a polite gentleman who vehemently proclaims his innocence, Reid will eventually experience visual and auditory hallucinations, haunting flashbacks, as well as a seemingly self-fulfilling battle with pareidolia. Gathegi’s embrace of the drama, without overlooking nuance, is easily the best and brightest part of watching the film.
But Hardin won’t be overlooked! Her Officer Sacks is the epitome of abusive law enforcement: she taunts the prisoners, physically assaults them, and wages a psychological war against each man until he admits defeat and commits suicide. By withholding food, or threatening the men to confess, she slowly chips away at their mental states until each cracks. And though she’s not a three-dimensional character, we do receive a suggestion as to the personal demons she is fighting, and where her hatred emanates from—which effectively relays the argument for stricter background checks on correctional officers. Hardin commits and makes herself truly ugly in her portrayal, communicating all of this with a vile ease. The loathe and disgust that we feel for the actress is, oddly, just a reflection of her magnificent ability to embrace her inhumane character.
In this, the talented cast manages to prevent this largely one-room setting from growing stale, thanks to the inclusion of flashbacks and hallucinations, as well as some creative camera work from Cinematographer Jessica Young (Rally On series, Dumbbells 2014). But Caged is, first and foremost, a commentary on our penal system. Gathegi’s Dr. Reid is a man who is clearly not representative of the average incarcerated individual, an affluent psychiatrist who, in his early days in confinement, is able to fight to keep himself healthy, mentally speaking. So his devolving stability serves as a bold reminder that he is the exception—and one can hardly fathom an unarmed man attempting this joust.
All of this said, Caged is not a feel-good film, nor is it intended to be. Challenging a system that routinely traumatizes rather than rehabilitating, that has been racially biased since its outset, this is a dark look at how very simple it would be to break apart even the brightest of us under these wretched and all too real circumstances. A bleak social commentary packaged in the form of a Psychological Thriller, the film relies on its talented cast to keep viewers empathetic to, and engaged with, an ailing inmate. Because of this the thrills are minimal, and you won’t need the use of the edge of your seat, but Gathegi, Hardin, and their castmates will force you to consider the efficacy of a system that fails those on the outside, as well as those on the inside. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Caged 3.5 of 5 stars.