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Turning paradise into anything but is a time-honored tradition in movies, from horrific natural disasters to villainous madmen, typically with a white couple or family discovering that there are all kinds of horrors waiting in distant lands. While possible PR nightmares for said countries abound, the genre seem an inexhaustible export of the industry that fall on both sides of good and bad.
The real terror of these stories is the loss of control, the sense that being a power in one place but nowhere else is the scariest feeling possible, and with Extortion, that fear is brought to bare in an often chilling if somewhat disjointed account of a family in turmoil as time becomes their biggest enemy when a vacation becomes a battle for life and death.
Kevin Riley (Eion Bailey) is a successful doctor with a wife Julie (Bethany Joy Lenz) and a six-year-old son (Mauricio Alemañy), taking a much-needed trip together to the Caribbean. Kevin is looking to give them the best time of their lives, dropping cash about to get the best rooms and service he can. When he tries to rent a jetski from the hotel, he’s told they’re out, and is directed to a nearby dock where locals offer motorboats for daily fees. He pays under the table and takes his family out to sea, but when the boat breaks down at an isolated abandoned island, they suffer days with no sign of help until a fisherman (Barkhad Abdi) arrives and offers to take them back, but for a substantial fee, putting Kevin in a race to save his family against a man holding all the cards.
Written and directed by Phil Volken, Extortion is a slow burn, a caustic drama that takes its time to unfold, painting characters in broad strokes, throwing tinder on low flames before reaching an absolutely combustable third act that saves the film entirely. Volken stokes the embers throughout with a solid if not familiar story that sees Kevin make some truly questionable decisions in the name of family fun, some that stretch credibility and when it comes to him trying to get his family back, he becomes a sort of Jason Bourne though Volken keeps it all mostly convincing enough, even if it goes on for twenty more minutes than it needs to.
Bailey is the whole show here, seen in nearly every scene and while the opening moments don’t do much to establish him as a heroic figure, he earns it later on as he undertakes a monumental task in dealing with unbelieving police, led by Constable Haagen (Danny Glover) and a host of near insurmountable obstacles in rescuing his wife and son. It’s hard not to get behind him for this, even if things begin to stack up a little too high and Volken indulges in some extended moments that pad out the action.
That said, the film is deeply earnest, a deadly-serious story that strives for authenticity and is peppered with a number of truly outstanding moments of terror and drama that capitalize well on the inherent horror of Kevin’s dilemma. Abdi, perhaps best known for his work in the 2013 Tom Hanks thriller Captain Phillips, is appropriately menacing, and his character given a bit of a second layer that adds some depth, much like last year’s under seen Land Mine Goes Click. Glover is also well-cast, and doesn’t over do it as the role has potential for.
Extortion is a well-made and often gripping story that is about struggle and redemption, and filled with moments that seem impossible for our hero to overcome, its themes worn on its sleeve but with surprisingly effective results. After a slow start, once this heats up, it’s a chaotic ride well worth taking.
Movie description: Extortion is a 2017 acton/adventure film about a family on vacation whose father finds himself in a desperate race against the clock to save his wife and son from a dangerous fisherman.
Director(s): Phil Volken
Actor(s): Eion Bailey, Bethany Joy Lenz, Barkhad Abdi
Genre: Thriller, Drama,