Updated: Feb 6, 2020
Traffik is the worst kind of exploitation picture. It is exploitative as it pretends to be informative. The story, about a woman who goes with her boyfriend to a secluded house in the woods where they are menaced by a creepy gang, staples a topical premise onto a generic horror/thriller film. It tries to act like a message movie, especially at the conclusion, but is not consistently anything.
It is several different things hammered together, none of which are particularly successful: the long setup section is a relationship drama (a dull and uninvolving way to introduce the characters), it then turns into a violent suspense story (this part works in a few spots) and ends as an attempt at public awareness (not developed nearly enough to be effective). It is very reminiscent of something that could have played on the bottom half of a drive-in double-feature in the 1970s, but I am pretty sure that was not the objective. This is a seriously confused movie.
The headline grabbing idea Traffik pays lip-service to acknowledging is human trafficking. It even opens with an “inspired by a true story” tag and closes with statistics. The main characters, journalist Brea (Paula Patton) and mechanic John (Omar Epps), stumble onto a ring of human traffickers while on a romantic getaway. Trafficking is a massive issue these days, internationally as well as domestically, and very few American films have touched on this topic.
I am not adverse to a film about it, even one that just uses it as a piece in a genre plot. Presumably, writer/director/producer Deon Taylor put it into a thriller so that potential audiences would be lured in by the promise of action and leave with an appreciation for a major concern that a lot of people may be uninformed of. That is certainly a worthwhile goal. Sadly, in the finished product, it seems more like the message is being used as an excuse for the violence, instead of an explanation.
I have no problems with exploitation pictures, but Traffik feels dishonest. It lingers on shots of half-naked women and only gives one woman any personality or agency. Then, it wants to point out the evils of exploiting and dehumanizing women. In fairness, the men are not developed either. But the men are not sexualized by the camera the way the women are. I would not have nearly as much of a problem with it if the movie did not act like it was telling a cautionary tale. It really made me wonder: Who exactly is this film supposed to be for?
Traffik (90 minutes before the final credits) is a thriller that rarely thrills. It is also a message movie that puts little effort into getting its point across. The characters are poorly written types that unfortunately waste good actors such as Paula Patton and Omar Epps. I understand the impulse behind this project. I believe it was started with noble intentions. But those intentions were pushed to the side long before it was completed. The end result is an uncomfortable mess.
1¼ out of 5
Paula Patton as Brea
Omar Epps as John
Laz Alonso as Darren Cole
Roselyn Sanchez as Malia
Luke Goss as Red
Missi Pyle as Deputy Sally Marnes
Written and Directed by Deon Taylor