Released a year after Patty Heart’s kidnapping made headlines, harsh thriller Abduction bears more than a few suspicious similarities to Hearst’s situation, even though the filmmakers use a disclaimer at the top of the picture to call the parallels coincidental, seeing as how Abduction was based upon a novel published in 1973. In the filmmakers’ meager defense, their storyline doesn’t include a bank robbery, and it plays out differently than Hearst’s real-life circumstances. However, the movie does concern an heiress named Patricia being taken by a group of political radicals and then drawn into their hive mind through psychosexual conditioning. Despite claims to the contrary, Abduction was made and marketed as a lurid riff on Hearst. The kicker: Abduction is a fairly solid movie, with an eerily restrained aesthetic, methodical storytelling, and satisfactory performances. Some may find the picture slow, an unavoidable problem for stories depicting extended periods of captivity, but viewers able to look past the picture’s exploitive nature will find something creepy and unsettling.
Rather than being the daughter of a newspaper publisher, Patricia Prescott (Judith-Marie Bergan) is the offspring of a rich developer. She’s violently abducted by radicals under the command of Frank (Gregory Rosackis), an impassioned black radical determined to undermine the ruling class. In a hideout, Frank has a colleague videotape him raping Patricia. Then he sends the tape to her father (Leif Erickson), demanding that Mr. Prescott demolish a luxury building that, Frank says, represents capitalist oppression. As the film progresses, Mr. Prescott weighs the consequences of giving in to demands while Frank plays mind games with Patricia, eventually bringing her around to his way of thinking. Or so it seems. Director Joseph Zito and his collaborators do a passable job of tracking Patricia’s mental state, creating empathy for her predicament as well as ambiguity about whether she’s truly “converted” or whether she’s patronizing her captors.
Particularly because the pacing is meditative, with extended camera takes and long periods that are bereft of scoring, a suitably oppressive mood takes hold, all the way to the intense ending. As an example of what the film does well, consider the recurring image of Mr. Prescott, sitting alone in his home office, staring at hostage videos of his daughter’s sexual violations, the harrowing frames seen in flickering reflections on his eyeglasses. Yikes. Sex, however, also contributes to Abduction’s biggest problem. Zito lingers so long on carnal scenes that Abduction has a leering quality, even though Zito emphasizes the horror, rather than the titillation, of such sequences. As one of Frank’s colleagues says to Patricia with chilling amiability: “It’s not you I want to hurt—I hope you remember that.”