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Who Wants to See a Women-Led Take on ‘Prisoners’?

Have we found the next great female-driven thriller?
Prisoners Hugh Jackman Paul Dano
By  · Published on April 4th, 2018

The next great female-driven thriller is being shopped around Hollywood.

The joy of sifting through spec scripts is figuring out which ones are immediately intriguing and which result in a more measured reaction. To be clear, “measured” doesn’t necessarily signal trouble. The Tracking Board reports that a new spec script titled Three Day Hold is being shopped around by Bellevue Productions. The film, written by Scott Blaszak, is said to be comparable to Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train and a woman-led version of Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners.

The news that more female-fronted stories are being written and shopped around is always fabulous. I hate to call women’s stories a trend, but the fact that Hollywood really wants to make these films work ensures more opportunities across the board and is of extra value to actresses vying for more substantial leading roles.

In the case of Three Day Hold, the Prisoners comparison is perhaps more intriguing than any reference to The Girl on the Train. Where Villeneuve’s direction allows Prisoners to sidestep the archetypal confines of a predictable thriller and keep audiences invested in an immersive, tense narrative, The Girl on the Train plays out in run-of-the-mill fashion. The Girl on the Train is totally proficient as a dramatic character study of womanhood and self-worth, and the film is definitely empowering by the end. However, inspired thriller it is not.

In all fairness, The Girl on the Train would have probably fared a lot better if it hadn’t been constantly referred to as “the next Gone Girl,” but recent women-led thrillers do have David Fincher’s last directorial effort to thank for revitalizing the onscreen blueprint for unreliable narrators and not-so-likeable female protagonists. Or antagonists or antiheroes; however you happen to classify Amy Dunne. That kind of complexity is sadly not replicated in The Girl on the Train despite all the hype attached to the film. Taylor’s direction left the film feeling unremarkable overall, especially when thinking about the sheer potential of modern thrillers when taking some truly phenomenal ones into consideration.

So, where does Three Day Hold fit into all of this? The film could be an exceptional female-driven thriller. According to The Tracking Board, the summary for the movie goes as follows:

‘Three Day Hold’ follows a psychology grad student who comes to believe that her new patient holds the key to the mystery surrounding her sister’s disappearance 13 years earlier. When no one believes her, she takes matters into her own hands and sets out to find her sister by any means necessary.

The purported resemblance to the plot of Prisoners definitely makes sense here. Both stories feature a protagonist who would do absolutely anything to protect their family. Belief also plays a big part in the narrative of Three Day Hold, which creates a tangible unreliable narrator scenario, or at least suitably tenuous oppositional forces that are bound by subjectivities and personal experience.

In print, the comparisons are notable; much like how viewers could have compared Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train before diving in. In actuality, Prisoners only works so well because of Villeneuve. The story is otherwise reminiscent of many other family-centric crime thrillers out there; some children go missing and the head of the household — i.e. a very angry man — has no qualms in doing everything in his power to seek revenge once he finds a suspect. In clumsier hands, Prisoners‘ twists wouldn’t be half as effective seeing as the film builds on the feeling of suspense more so than the shocking nature of its imagery (although there are some whoppers sprinkled throughout for good measure). In Villeneuve’s focus on aural techniques and uncanny visual seamlessness, the audience believes they know what’s going to happen next or expect to feel let down, except the opposite happens. That plays a big part in keeping Prisoners afloat.

The hook of a female version of Prisoners is a very tempting prospect and would certainly aid in toying with audience expectations of the film. But the Hollywood approach to these narratives also proves that such movies don’t always work on premise alone, especially if they’re being held to an unreasonable standard. On paper, Three Day Hold automatically appeals to me more as a woman who’d love to see psychological thrillers introduce complex female characters and characterize their flaws without dragging them down completely. This spec script announcement is the perfect starting point for such a compelling film, but the line between churning out a story for the sake of a trend and finding truly groundbreaking cinema is evidently still difficult to navigate.

Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)