Claustrophobia will have its grip around you when watching CAGED, a psychological thriller centered around the story of Harlow Reid (Edi Gathegi), who is locked in solitary confinement for over 200 days after being accused of killing Amber Reid, his wife (Angela Sarafyan). Harlow is made to suffer abuse after his imprisonment, he is immediately told that his trial has been postponed indefinitely and his lawyer has sued him for everything he owns. We immediately see from the beginning how the cards are stacked against him. As the plot continues, things get exponentially worse. He is abused daily by prison guard Officer Sacks (Melora Hardin) and is unable to defend himself as he slips further and further into his psychosis. He maintains in the beginning that he’s innocent but as the story moves along he begins to slip in the view was left to question whether or not he truly is innocent.
Director Aaron Fjellman takes on the incredibly heavy task of critiquing an intense form of punishment found in our criminal justice system. Historically, the negative effects of solitary confinement have been recorded. Prisoners spend days, weeks, months, and extreme cases sometimes even years in an eight-foot by ten-foot room. It is usually only furnished with one bed, one window and one toilet. This is where the majority of CAGED takes place.
Because the scenery so rarely changes, the viewer is made to feel uneasy, and the amazing performance by Edi Gathegi makes one feel the panic that slowly creeps in as his mental state degenerates in his cell. It is never explicitly stated that race is a factor in Harlow’s treatment, but you can feel the vein of injustice play throughout the entire movie. There are a lot of subtle power imbalances at play that weaves a complex tale throughout the 80 minute run time of this film. It’s strongest moments are its use of space. By intermittently changing the scenery it still keeps the viewers engaged, but by spending a majority of the time within that cell we relate with Harlow and feel his stress. With Fjellman almost weaponizing empathy, it creates the fear we have come to expect from psychological thrillers.
Harlow has his anxieties manifest themselves as faces in the walls, or voices in the air vents. Those moments are a bit more heavy-handed, and oftentimes miss the mark when the camera lingers on a CGI-ed figure for too long. The sound mixing can be a little too loud in some areas, but in other scenes, it places you directly in Harlow’s shoes. What is the most powerful is left up to the imagination. The actions of Officer Sacks make clear the message the movie is trying to tell with the brutal abuse of Harlow, and his mistreatment, while not uncommon in jail, is performed so aggressively and blatant to a point in which it could be seen as comical. This isn’t helped by the fact that in almost every scene Sacks is slowly chewing gum.
The points that this film subtly makes about solitary confinement are much stronger than the ones that it makes blatantly. We are made to ask questions like: How is a man meant to defend himself for a case when he is suffering from the degradation of his mind? Or, if jail is meant for rehabilitation, is solitary confinement the antithesis to that progress? It is not completely clear that CAGED is a critique of the system until about midway into the movie which works to its benefit and detriment. If you were expecting a pure horror story, this may not be subtle enough for you. Overall, it is an enjoyable watch and addresses real-world problems that as a society we do need to address.
CAGED will be released on-demand and Digital on January 26, 2021, by Shout! Studios.