Kidnapping thrillers don’t — can’t — get much dumber or cheaply teasing in a foggy smoke-and-mirrors sense than Atom Egoyan‘s Captives (aka The Captive), which screened this morning at the Cannes Film Festival. Intentionally confusing by way of coy misdirection, this is one of those “can you guess what’s really happening here?” melodramas that use time-shift games to throw you off the scent. I only know that Captives, a wildly ineffective stinker with some of the worst over-acting in a film of this type that I’ve ever seen, was making me groan less than five minutes in. Then I began to flinch, throw up my hands, pitch forward in my seat, cover my face with my hands, etc. Then I settled into a state of numb resignation. “Go on, pour it on, poison me,” I told the movie. “Inject your awfulness into my veins.”

It’s only the third day of the Cannes Film Festival, but I’m willing to say at this point that Captives is the winner of the Only God Forgives Cote d’Azur Wipeout Award of 2014. Stab me in the chest with a pencil…please!

Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos (the not-hot-enough wife of Brad Pitt in World War Z) are Canadian working-class parents of ginger-haired Cass (Peyton Kennedy as a child, Alexia Fast as an eight-years-older version), who abruptly disappears from the back seat of Reynolds’ truck as he’s picking up food in a diner. For help the couple turns to Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman, independent investigators (or possibly legit cops — I wasn’t sure) who specialize in child predators and kidnappers. Most of the action happens eight years after the kidnapping but the movie shifts back and forth in order to keep things fuzzy and inconclusive.

And yet the film makes it thuddingly obvious from the get-go that the villain is a wealthy, debonair, gray-haired creep played by Kevin Durand. How do we know this so quickly? Because he walks down staircases with his hands folded behind his back. Only bad guys do this, the movie is telling us. In fact, only bad actors do this. Nobody including Hannibal Lecter walks down staircases with their hands folded behind them….nobody!

Co-written and Egoyan and David Fraser, Captives makes Denis Villenueve‘s somewhat similar Prisoners, which I was a bit iffy about after catching it at last September’s Telluride Film Festival, seem like a near-masterpiece by comparison.

The scheme is all about keeping the audience guessing. Not about who the kidnapper is or how he might be caught, but how much worse Captives can get as it moves along. I know that the script seemed strongly adamantly opposed to plain-spoken dialogue and plotting that even occasionally seemed to cohere. Characters do and say inexplicably stupid things, and then they double-down and double-down again. And then the actors make everything worse by over-acting. It’s all some kind of twisted three-card-monte game, or about the turmoil that can build and build in people’s heads when nothing (and I mean nothing) is adding up. I’m talking about the turmoil in my head, of course, as well as the characters.

On top of which the overly bassy sound in the Grand Lumiere made the dialogue hard to discern. I only know that Captives made me feel as if bees were buzzing inside my mind…the bees!

The only thing about Captives that I’m not the least bit confused or uncertain about are Egoyan’s abilities and inclinations as a crime-genre scenarist. He should never go within a mile of a crime thriller of any kind again.

I began to lose my mind less than ten minutes in, and the insanity began with Durand’s historically terrible performance as the creepy kidnapper. Everything Durand does in this film says “I am a profoundly twisted fuck, and I am going to over-convey this fact until you are dying to reach into the screen and strangle me to death…but this is not The Purple Rose of Cairo and you can’t. You have two choices — suffer through my performance or walk out.” I stayed until the end. Don’t think I wasn’t calculating how it would sound to walk out of an Atom Egoyan film at the Cannes Film Festival. I stayed because of the shit I would have to deal with, but now that it’s over I’m glad I stayed because at least I have something to hate on.

From Justin Chang‘s Variety review: “We’re about as far removed from the mastery of The Sweet Hereafter as we could be in The Captive, a ludicrous abduction thriller that finds a once-great filmmaker slipping into previously unentered realms of self-parody. Attempting to meld his traditional preoccupations with guilt and bereavement, voyeuristic technology and achronological storytelling with a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit-style procedural, Egoyan leaves a strong cast flailing to keep up with a contrived and fatally unconvincing drama that makes the recent Prisoners look like a masterpiece in retrospect.”

I have to get to that 1 pm screening of Gabe Polsky’s Red Army….later.