The Rotten Tomato Effect: ‘The Loved Ones’ vs. ‘Captivity’


Boasting a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98%, Sean Byrne’s “The Loved Ones” is much loved. However, Roland Joffé’s “Captivity” is severely maligned. Why?

The Rotten Tomato Effect

Part 1: Is The Loved Ones (2012) that Good?

Pitting films against each other isn’t a standard practice, but I find myself compelled to do so here. Why? Some time ago I watched Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones, expecting to enjoy it as a horror fan. Fortunately, I did. It’s a pretty decent horror movie, and I knew it received some good reviews. It has memorable moments and the idea of a rejected girl kidnapping and torturing boys at her own “prom” is funny and scary.

However, what’s weird is that this movie has such rip-roaringly good reviews. A 98% Rotten Tomatoes score? Wow! This means that, out of 55 showcased reviews, 98% were deemed positive to glowing. Not bad, right? Still, it’s a little quaint, if you ask me. With such a high rating, you’d expect the movie to be virtually flawless — almost untouchable. Honestly, after seeing such a high rating, I began to think, “Sure, it’s good, but it’s not that great, is it?” I started to dissect the movie a bit more afterwards.

For example, how many memorable lines are there in The Loved Ones? Probably the most memorable one (for me) is: “You are not my prince, you’re just another frog,” spoken by the main antagonist, Lola (Robin McLeavy). It’s somewhat funny, but not exactly a knee slapper. Other than that, I can’t remember or even find that many great lines. I end up wondering if I missed something. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mindset when I watched it? I want to love, love, love it, but I just like it. It’s just okay for me.

The Loved Ones, courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Then, after seeing other movies with really bad RT scores, the disparity in treatment can linger in my brain. Why? For whatever reason, when I see reviews of certain movies, they can change how I perceive the film. In this case, I’ll call it the “Rotten Tomato” effect. I will often start to like acclaimed movies less and “underdog” movies more. The Loved Ones isn’t the only example, obviously. I might similarly cite Get Out. It’s a decent movie and I am a Jordan Peele fan, but it was a little bit over-hyped for me. What about other, less loved movies?

Part 2: Is Roland Joffé’s Captivity (2007) that Bad?

I have a confession to make: I like Roland Joffé’s Captivity. In fact, I actually own a physical copy of it on DVD — a real, legally acquired physical copy of this critically lambasted film. Why? I think it’s reasonably well done. I will re-watch it at some point in the future. How is this possible? Very few critics like it, which means it’s an absolute dud, right? Out of 77 reviews, it has a despicable 9% Rotten Tomatoes score! With a score like that, it’s basically at the bottom of the critic’s barrel.

What exactly is wrong with it? The story is about a supermodel-type (Elisha Cuthbert) who gets kidnapped and tormented throughout the movie.  Some people don’t like the premise, and lash out against it.  Still, a 9% rating implies it’s absolute garbage, that nothing about it was well done. I mean, it could even get to a lowly 10%? They couldn’t have rounded up a little to show a hint of mercy? Bah!

Speaking for myself, I think, ‘Okay, it’s not the greatest film of all time, but it’s actually not that bad.’ However, there is one critic — Luke Y. Thompson — who swam with me against the critical current. In L.A. Weekly, Thompson wrote: “Screw the culture cops who freaked out over Captivity‘s graphic poster and always cry ‘torture porn’ — this is a gleefully nasty piece of red meat for horror hounds that delivers as promised.” Basically, a lot of the critiques I’ve seen deal with — you guessed it — the fact that it’s a horror movie with “torture porn” elements. Well, guess what? So is a movie like The Loved Ones!

Captivity, courtesy of Lionsgate

Maybe the different treatment stems from the movies’ chosen victims? In The Loved Ones, the target is a young man (and, ostensibly, young men). In Captivity, it is a female model. Some people probably think, “Yeah, a woman under duress…real original!” But, honestly, you can’t enjoy a horror movie if you just approach it like that. You don’t watch a horror movie and say, “Oh, a guy with a knife — BO-RING!” If that’s your default stance, you’re setting yourself for disappointment.

RT’s site says Captivity is “Lacking scares or psychological insight…”  What can I say? I disagree. I find the movie creepy, potentially insightful, and actually more believable than a film like The Loved Ones (and certainly more plausible than the far-fetched Get Out). Captivity is constantly dragged through the mud by critics, and it’s not even that bad.

Another Defense of Captivity: The Razzie Awards Really Suck

On that note, I should mention the whole Razzie Award nomination thing for Captivity. First of all, the Razzies are themselves absolute crap. Why? While giving awards for the so-called “worst in film,” they often showcase a truly pathetic grasp of what qualifies as bad. Want examples? They gave Worst Picture of the Decade (1980s) to Mommie Dearest (a movie that went way over Roger Ebert’s head, too). That’s right — “Worst Picture of the Decade!” Even if I didn’t like Mommie Dearest much, would it really deserve worst picture of the decade? Hell no!

They also nominated Stanley Kubrick as Worst Director for The Shining. The Razzies nominated John Carpenter’s The Thing for Worst Original Score(!). They also nominated Brian De Palma for Worst Director, for Scarface. While the Razzies are a joke ceremony, they are a joke of a joke ceremony.  Don’t use them as a guide for what is and is not good!

In Conclusion

You can enjoy both The Loved Ones and Captivity, or one or the other, or neither. However, I continue to be mystified by apparently bandwagon-leaping critics, who create weird standards by which to judge things. They either praise or trash something too much. They expect a movie to meet rigid criteria (and punish something unrelentingly when it doesn’t). Quite often, they’re just not trying to appreciate something at all — which, in my opinion, means they are not good at their jobs.

As far as I’m concerned, a good critic goes out of his/her way to appreciate a movie, when possible. They will note a film’s flaws, sure, but they’ll be fair-minded enough to consider some positives about it. Unfortunately, most critics are lazy and just go with their knee-jerk response (something Roger Ebert excelled at). Captivity suffered at the hands of such critics, while The Loved Ones was placed ultra-high on a pedestal, for whatever reason.

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What are your thoughts? Are critics being unfair, and can anything be done to moderate their treatment of films? Let us know in the comments!