Based on the digital cover artwork available in the DVDTalk Screener Pool, Slave looked like little more than a grungy domestic kidnapping story, about someone locked in a basement. Instead, Slave is more in keeping with the recent rise of taken tourist films like Hostel and Turistas, but even then, it adopts a more old-fashioned tactic of sticking with the guy left behind rather than the kidnap victim. At first, surprisingly strong direction keeps the film afloat, but the film's focus crumbles during the third act.
David Dunsmore (Sam Page) is a young man looking to start a life with his girlfriend Georgie (Natassia Malthe). He proposes and she accepts, on the condition that he let her in more when it comes to his family. In particular, Sam has a strained relationship with his father Robert Dunsmore (Michael Maxwell), who got a divorce from Sam's mother when Sam was young and lives the good life doing unspecified criminal work in Spain. A phone call or two later and the couple are lounging around Robert's estate, hoping he'll find enough time in his busy schedule for a dinner or two, when Georgie vanishes at a club in the middle of a drug trip.
For the next 40 or so minutes, the movie proved more interesting than I expected: instead of following Georgie and her abductors, the film sticks with David, who finds that everyone insists he "go home, get some sleep", insisting she may have taken off rather than been taken. Unable and uninterested in accepting that as an answer, David starts wandering the streets, looking for clues as to where his bride-to-be has been whisked off to. Eventually, he tracks down Alejandro (Roger Pera), a scarred bartender who claims his sister was taken by the same person: Mohamed Aziz (David Gant), who crawls the ocean in a luxury yacht filled with personal, gorgeous slave women.
Unfortunately, the film's reasonable tension-building is shattered when, right around this point, writer Brett Goldstein and director Darryn Welch decide to reveal what happened to Georgie. Not only is the answer not as compelling as David's searching, but it defuses both ends of the story by shifting the attention. Meanwhile, the film starts working Robert in through a nagging subplot that eventually sinks the whole film, and too much time is spent with Gant's completely run-of-the-mill malicious gangster.
Welch employs plenty of cutting and lighting tricks that give the film a slick look (one shot, which flattens a shadowy silhouette until the face of the person finally pokes out in illusory 3D, is particularly impressive). It may not be a professional standard, as it has more flash than substance, but it's a nice touch for a direct-to-video thriller, effectively making the sets and locations look glitzier than they are. Too bad the film decides to moralize with its ending, which will likely leave a sour taste in the mouths of viewers without packing the emotional weight or meaning the filmmakers intended.
The DVD, Video, Audio, and Extras
This is a screener disc and probably not representative of release product (I hope not, anyway, given that the film has "Property of Lightning Media" burnt into the top of the image at all times), so I cannot accurately assess the quality of the image, audio, or packaging. Pressing "menu" also took me to a generic create-a-DVD menu with no options on it but the feature film, so if there are any extras included with Slave, I don't have them to review.
Aspects of Slave are enjoyable, but the film trashes that goodwill by the end with a misguided ending that wants to make a Big Point. If Darryn Welch makes another film, it might be one to look out for, but I can't imagine anyone's life will be lesser if they choose to skip Slave at the Redbox.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.