A woman’s motionless body is transported to a secluded island by boat. Three people, a young man and what seems to be his parents, unload her and place her in a bed. They clean her, and the ‘father’ offers the ‘mother’ drugs “to keep her calm”.
The woman, Keely (Laurence Leboeuf), is at a religious hospice, whose caretakers believe in “the sanctity of life and unborn children.” Keely has been raped by her alcoholic ex-husband Cole, and is now pregnant with his baby. It becomes clear that she has been abducted from an abortion clinic by religious extremists Robert (Aidan Devine) and Du (Nancy Palk), who have brought Keely to an isolated island in Northern Ontario, a picturesque prison where the idyllic surroundings keep Keely ensnared, presumably until she has her baby. Du stays with Keely full-time, feeding her and trying to engage her in religious teachings and activities around the cabin they share. But Keely resists, though after a few attempts to escape, tacitly comes to accept her captivity, while forthrightly refusing to acknowledge or accept her pregnancy. Robert comes in periodically on a boat, bringing supplies, proselytizing about her duty to God’s will, and generally striking fear into Keely and making clear that he’s running this show.
Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert’s Catch and Release is an adaptation of a play, 1993’s Keely and Du, by the mysterious Jane Martin. Martin is a prolific playwright and has been producing stage plays since 1981, but no one seems to know who she is. It would be helpful to have context here, to know if Keely and Du was actually written by a woman, because to my eyes, the original play feels like it’s trying to draw an equivalence between the pro-choice and anti-choice sides of the abortion debate. To it’s credit, Cardona and Colbert’s film comes down strongly on the former side and presents mercifully little justification for the frankly inexcusable actions of Du and especially the violent zealotry of Robert.
Though Keely is the main focus of the film, the journey is Du’s, as she questions her beliefs and eventually comes to be protective of her captive daughter figure. It’s supremely fucked up and doesn’t offer many answers, but for my money it’s an improvement on the play, at least. Leboeuf brings a fierce spirit to her portrayal, playing against Palk’s Du’s quiet strength and principled intensity in a way that sparks a chemistry that carries the film. Devine’s Robert seethes with furious anger and the kind of calm, measured violent energy that you can almost taste.
James Klopto’s cinematography lets the Northern Ontario setting stand on it’s own. It’d be almost impossible to make this scenery anything but breathtaking, and Klopto’s game is mostly to sit back and let it be, with minimal frills. For a film that could well be presented as a straight horror, something not unlike Jack Ketchum’s Right To Life, it could stand to be a little darker and grittier, but the choice to set the vast majority of the film in broad daylight, the rippling lake and lush greenery making the island into one of the prettiest prisons around, is an inspired choice.
While the considerable work of updating and re-contextualizing the original play is obvious in Cardona and Colbert’s adaptation here, it’s still a story that paints with often-frustratingly broad strokes. The climax and ending of Catch And Release feel a little muted compared to what’s come before, with the rest of the film seeming like it’s building to a horror movie crescendo. I think that audiences unfamiliar with the play will be looking for more answers once the credits roll. What exactly is the nature of this extremist group? Will Keely terminate her pregnancy after all? Neither detail is terribly central to the film’s overarching message, but would help to clarify that message. In a time when the debate over women’s autonomy over their own bodies is still maddeningly under debate, the issues that Keely and Du (the play) bring to the surface are as timely as they were in 1993. But the conversation has evolved since then, and thankfully Cardona and Colbert have internalized that in their adaptation. It’s no longer enough to be satisfied with debate alone – there’s a right and wrong position here, and the right one is where women are free to make choices for themselves.