Rick Lancaster’s The Abduction of Zack Butterfield is a muddle of a film, seeking to be a transgressive thriller that instead comes off as a sometimes laughable, always awkward and bland drama. There’s no suspense to be found, and little to connect with in this film about a sexual predator trying to re-capture the youth she lost.
Zack Butterfield (T.J. Plunkett) is a fourteen year old with seemingly everything going for him. He’s an accomplished martial artist, talented soccer player and a good guy to boot. His life gets severely complicated, however, when he is kidnapped one day while out jogging. His kidnapper, April (Brett Helsham), is a military war veteran who did not have a traditional teenage life growing up. Now in her twenties, she’s decided to try and craft a perfect relationship with a teenage boy, before he grows up and becomes the type of man she despises. Utilizing a necklace packed with explosives that will detonate should Zack try to remove it or stray too far from April’s hidden-in-the-woods house, April keeps Zack under her thumb, forcing him to do chores while simultaneously trying to win him over emotionally and sexually.
It’s certainly a premise rife with all types of disturbing possibilities, but the film doesn’t show it has the chops to pull it off right. For one, the film is poorly composed. Everything seems stiff and uninteresting; sure it’s all in focus, but there’s no real connection to be found via visual means. It’s all awkward and stagey, not at all natural or dynamic.
Then there’s the performances. In the case of Plunkett’s Zack, there’s little going on. He never seems all that scared or concerned with the fact that he’s been kidnapped, and even when that mindset is utilized as a plot point, it still doesn’t work; it’s all very blank slate, with little emotion. Helsham’s April is far more energetic, but instead of delivering a powerful performance like Kathy Bates in Misery, where we’re scared of what this kidnapper could do, we get something that feels more like unnatural and erratic mood swings; the changes in performance don’t feel like they come from an organic place, just that, in the script, it was time for them to happen.
Other performances in the film don’t fare much better, whether it be Zack’s family and friends worrying over his disappearance, or the cops and investigators on the case trying to track him down. It’s just more of that unfortunate and unappealing mix of poor composition and often emotionless, or unnatural, delivery.
I want to say there are plot holes to be found throughout, and I’m sure there are, but it’s clear that the filmmakers made it a point to try and explain away as many of the narrative’s potential flaws as they could. Zack is bested early on in hand-to-hand combat with April, for example, so therefore the audience shouldn’t expect that this extremely athletic teenager with martial arts training should be able to defeat her and escape. Likewise, we see April removing objects that could be used as weapons against her. It’s all somewhat addressed yet it is still hard to swallow that Zack would so easily settle into playing house with April. Much of that goes back to the aforementioned lack of emotions in the performance.
I wish I could say that The Abduction of Zack Butterfield was a better film, but I can’t. It’s provocative subject matter for sure, and it requires a deft hand to make something powerful, and that just doesn’t happen here. It’s not even up to the standards of the type of lame thrillers that end up as made-for-cable programming.
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