Normally, I’d start these reviews with a quip or something, but I will begin by saying that human trafficking is a problem— not just in this country, but throughout the world— and this film reminds us all too well of the immediacy this issue deserves to be dealt with.
That being said, “Traffik” is the latest thriller to hit the silver screen, with Paula Patton starring as Brea, a journalist down on her luck, losing her job and unsure of her future. Her boyfriend John (Omar Epps)— trying to cheer up his girl on her birthday— manages to build Brea her dream car and whisk her away to a remote property secluded in the northern wilderness of California, thanks to his cocky friend Darren (Laz Alonso) and his girlfriend Malia (Roselyn Sanchez). Things look great until Brea has a chance encounter with a mysterious woman (Dawn Olivieri), whom Brea believes is being held against her will by someone. Stir in a scuffle between John and some local sleazy bikers and our two starry-eyed lovers find themselves unsure of what the weekend may bring.
Brea’s funny feeling becomes fully realized when that mysterious woman leaves Brea evidence of a human trafficking ring where she is not only a victim, but at the center of it all. She tries to jot down the evidence so she can ‘get the scoop’ when their life gets turned upside-down. Fast-forward to the evening and Brea and John find themselves running away from the aforementioned bikers and their boss Red (Luke Goss) in the forest, hoping for a rescue from Deputy Sheriff Sally Marnes (Missi Pyle) and trying to resist the gang’s efforts to place them into human trafficking, or kill them trying.
Writer-director and renowned self-taught filmmaker Deon Taylor deserves praise for his unwavering decision to keep the film narrow and focused on the story, showing the gritty details of human trafficking and the violence associated with it. The film feels like an old 70s exploitation flick.
That is its greatest strength and setback. Exploitation films of old dragged the story on and made you wait until the story came to a head to really get into the stuff advertised. For example, the original “I Spit On Your Grave” could be split into three equal parts: the set-up, the grueling encounter with the antagonists and the final resolution, which sees our female protagonist seek vengeance against her captors and rapists. “Traffik” hits all these points, but it feels like it’s trying to appease every type of moviegoer. It has the “Fifty Shades of Grey” style shots of luxury with Brea and John making love in a pool while R&B music plays. It has the intense moments of violence, murder and bloodshed and the Lifetime movie-esque theme of a strong female getting redemption with a little extra of that “I am woman, hear me roar” mentality that kind of misses the point of why human trafficking is a problem and instead comes across as a star vehicle with a message tacked on. Tonally, it makes the film feel like a roller-coaster, and at a ninety-six-minute run time, that leaves little room for things to cool down and feel like they mean something. Things happen, the mood feels tragic or something changes and it rocks the foundation of our hero’s journey to safety, and then the next scene starts. It’s human trafficking, a topic not explored in mainstream cinema. You can give the audience some breathing room to let things sink in. Understand that all of this may be at fault of the editor, trimming down the story, or the script itself not taking time to really feel the emotions we’re supposed to feel.
As a counter point, the stuff done well is done incredibly well done. Finely crafted twists, unexpected changes in character, some beautiful cinematography and a powerhouse performance by Patton, who really comes out of this film as a worthy A-list talent deserving of better roles. We also get some great performances by Epps, Pyle and Alonso, who ends up with some of the best dialogue and unintentionally funniest moments in the film, be it cheesy and a little overdone at times. Seriously, the character of Darren Cole feels like it’s right out of a Leisure Suit Larry cutscene.
I wish I could be as decisive on this movie as I am about the existence of human trafficking. It’s a film that deserves to be noticed, and you will have a thrilling time watching it, but after leaving the theater, you will begin noticing where the film could have went further, done more and really shined and been a classic exploitation movie with a purpose. It has its moments of brilliance— several, in fact— but it’s just shy of being something truly good. It’s got potential, though, which is enough for “Traffik” to get a pass from me.
Photo Courtesy: Codeblack Films