NR | 2016 | Jim Gillespie | 107 mins | UK
My primary motivation for watching the recently-released Billionaire Ransom (Take Down outside the US) was its filming location. I was punished, it seems, for my less-than-serious motivation in that the film’s location ended up being by far the best thing about it.
Billionaire Ransom is directed by Jim Gillespie, known for I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), and written by Alexander Ignon. It features a cast of young people (led by Jeremy Sumpter and Phoebe Tonkin), all of whom are rich and spoiled and sent to some kind of punitive boot camp for moral rehabilitation. As they are being taught the basics of survival on an isolated island, they are kidnapped by a group of criminals interested in a little wealth redistribution. The rich kids then get to practice their newly-honed survival skills with their very lives on the line.It wasn’t that Billionaire Ransom was bad in any truly objectionable ways. It didn’t make me feel angry. Only bored. Well, maybe I felt a tiny bit angry because such an incredibly beautiful shooting location was being thrown away. It’s a film in which everyone just seems to be going through the motions, as if no one really cared about it very much.
At least one reviewer has called the film a cross between The Hunger Games and I Know What You did Last Summer: http://www.instyle.com/news/billionaire-ransom-new-thriller-review. While there are plot elements that evoke both films (one of the kidnapped kids turns out to be good with a bow and arrow; people are being hunted; all of the kids have screwed up in that reckless, teen way—one of them involving a car accident), sadly, it’s not nearly as good as either.
The main problem is one that plagues too many films: no depth. That’s in part why the comparisons to I Know What You Did and Hunger Games are hollow. Each of those films had depth: the narrative didn’t just skate forward, it had offshoots, taking us to the past, offering a history that gave depth to the story as it stretched out. There were undiscovered parts of the characters that made them surprising to us and to others in the story. With Billionaire Ransom, there is none of that—no history that matters, no unplumbed depth of character to add any layers of complexity. What you see in the first fifteen minutes or so is what you get. There’s one “twist,” which I saw coming about a third of the way in, and it’s a “twist” that occurs so frequently in this kind of story that it’s less a twist and more of a convention. It’s a “twist” moreover involving a character we’ve really seen virtually nothing of and know nothing about so there’s even less potential for what happens at the end to be a meaningful “shock” (or even mild surprise!)
The film makes an effort at a class critique (a thread that obviously runs strongly through The Hunger Games franchise). One of the kidnappers (played by Ed Westwick in the film’s best performance) evinces possible proto-Marxist motivations in a couple of weightily delivered and resentfully brooding speeches. Talking of the money the kidnapped kids’ parents (“parasites”) cumulatively possess, he says: “Their fathers steal it. Then they call it free enterprise. They never worked a day in their lives.” True. Unfortunately for the fate of the class critique, though, the film seems to want to make us identify with the “parasites,” who turn out to be just normal kids, rather than with the kidnappers. The kidnappers, though (Ashley Walters plays another), are much more interesting.
If you don’t mind the lack of depth, including the fact that you won’t really care about anyone in the film, it’s not a bad watch. Lots of action (and a fair amount of gore) in the last third, and then there’s the highlight: the scenery is absolutely stunning. Billionaire Ransom was filmed on South Stack off the coast of Wales and on the Isle of Man, and I, personally, am decreeing the location the star of the show.