Traffik (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Here is a prime example of a film wishing to have its cake and eat it, too. It strives to deliver an entertaining survival thriller as it sheds light on an often forgotten problem we have in our country which generates billions of illegal funds annually: women being kidnapped and forced to become a part of human trafficking rings. A serious subject matter requires an intelligent and precise screenplay. Credit to writer-director Deon Taylor for trying, but one gets the impression that “Traffik” might have been stronger if it had focused on providing entertainment instead of education.

Brea (Paula Patton), a reporter, and John (Omar Epps), a mechanic, head to the Northern California mountains for a weekend getaway. Not only is it Brea’s birthday but John plans to propose to his longtime girlfriend. But on the way to the posh but remote estate, Brea encounters a woman in a gas station; she gets the feeling that the harried stranger is desperately asking for help based on her behavior. Later, when the couple have reached their destination, the same woman rings the doorbell and asks for her cell phone back—one she had purposefully placed inside Brea’s bag. This phone contains extremely sensitive information—pictures, bank accounts, telephone numbers—of those involved in the sex trafficking ring and the leader (Luke Goss) needs it back.

The picture takes its time to establish characters to be terrorized by those who run the illicit activities. While necessary so that viewers grow to care about the potential victims, it is repetitive and superficial. We do not learn anything particularly interesting about Brea and John as a couple, only that they love one another—which isn’t fresh at all in a movie of this kind. It would have been far more interesting if their flaws as a couple had been amplified, that we had to root for them to survive despite their imperfections. While Patton and Epps deliver their usual charming personalities and physical magnetism, these are not enough to provide dimension in a lacking screenplay.

I liked that it is willing to show a high level of brutality, not only in the physical assaults between the bikers and their prey but also in terms of non-moving images. One of the most chilling scenes involve the characters looking at photos on the phone of interest. We are forced to look at each image in horror so that we have a clear mental picture of the anguish of the women being held against their will. It is written all over their miserable facial expressions, the bruises and wounds all over their bodies, and the manner in which they are posed—like meat to be sold at the supermarket. It made me feel uncomfortable—which is the point.

Taking the time to show these pictures in this way is the correct decision. It is something that many crime shows on television, with the exception of premium cable and satellite television networks, do not show at all or do not show enough because it is considered to be too graphic. But that is what film is for: to show the ugly sores and then having the courage to rub it on our faces. I wished that this attitude were consistent throughout the film.

Chase sequences are less exciting both in content and photography. In the middle of it all, I wondered if the filmmaker understands the difference between shooting a thriller versus a slasher film. Some shots, especially when Brea and John attempt to make their escape, liken that of a thriller. However, when they are cornered or down on the ground, the camera takes on the perspective of a horror film. This disconnect distracts the overall experience. Thinking about it more closely, however, perhaps casual audiences might not notice the difference. Still, it does not change the fact that the formula regarding such chases does not offer enough variations so that we are constantly on our toes.

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