Prisoners is a 2013 American thriller film directed by Denis Villeneuve, from a screenplay written by Aaron Guzikowski, and executive produced by Mark Wahlberg. The film stars Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, and Paul Dano. The film is about the abduction of two young girls and the resulting search to find them.
This film provide examples of:
Adult Fear: Very much so for the parents of the little girls abducted.
Ambiguous Disorder: Alex is clearly mentally disabled though to what extent isn't clear. It's also why the police know he can't be the culprit, since a man with the intelligence of a ten-year old isn't exactly a scheming kidnapper able to outwit the cops.
Broken Ace: Loki is a detective who has solved every case he's been assigned. In reality, he is a person who doesn't have a perfect life. Ultimately, he solves this one too, but it's a very close call and, as detailed under Darkest Hour below, at one point it looks like his perfectionism has been broken.
But for Me, It Was Tuesday: After The Reveal, Holly Jones admits to Keller that she doesn't remember the names of the many children she's kidnapped and killed with her late husband.
Cold-Blooded Torture: The film includes some very disturbing torture scenes which can make for uncomfortable viewing. To put it into perspective, the film had to be edited down from its original rating, which was NC-17.
Confess in Confidence: Played with. The man who confessed to the priest clearly expected his secret to be kept. The priest did not report Mr. Jones for abducting and murdering children, he murdered Mr. Jones instead.
Darkest Hour: For Detective Loki after Bob Taylor shoots himself with Loki's gun, seemingly losing the only lead on the crime and probably endangering his job in the process.
Exact Words: "They didn't cry until I left them." Literally true. Alex Jones only took the girls for a joyride; He's not the kidnapper/serial killer. As Holly later explains to Keller, "I was the one who decided they should stay." The girls didn't cry until Alex left them because they weren't kidnapped until after Alex left them.
Exalted Torturer: Keller Dover believes his only choice to get Jones to admit what he did to the girls is with torture.
Eureka Moment: Detective Loki gets two from seeing pictures of a man wearing a piece of jewelry, in one of which he's a corpse.
He Who Fights Monsters: Keller, using torturous interrogation techniques to try to get information on where the girls are. And bizarrely enough, it turns out the true culprit's plan was to invoke this trope in the families of every child the culprit kidnaps. The culprit is trying to "win souls away from God" by kidnapping children to deliberately cause the families to devolve into crazy extremists when trying to get their kids back.
Hope Spot: Two of them. First, it looks like the main characters are going to catch the culprit earlier than they actually do because Bob Taylor behaves like the culprit, but turns out to be a copycat. Second, one of the two abducted little girls, Joy, is rescued but it turns out Anna is not with her, so Anna isn't saved until around the end of the movie.
I Did What I Had to Do: Keller's attitude towards his torture. His wife makes a similar claim at the end. While Loki doesn't offer an argument, the look on his face makes it clear that he doesn't agree with them.
Irony: A very tragic example. Keller's torturing of Alex Jones doesn't seem to be getting him anywhere. What ultimately gets Alex to actually talk to him and give him the clue he needs to figure out who really did it was the the polar opposite, a civil (or as civil as could be under the conditions) conversation.
Detective Loki has to be pulled off Bob Taylor after losing his temper.
And this is kind of Keller's entire plan.
Jack the Ripoff: Bob Taylor. At first it looks like he's the culprit, but it turns out he was just a previous kidnapping victim who survived, but went insane from the experience and started imitating the serial killer. The true culprit is someone else entirely.
Worth mentioning that he didn't even kill anyone. He broke into the houses of missing kids, found out what clothes they wore, bought those particular clothing articles, and then covered them in pigs blood.
Man Child: Alex Jones is this, whether due to learning difficulties or for more sinister reasons is not clear.
Missing White Woman Syndrome: A rather notable aversion; the culprit abducts a little white girl (Anna Dover) and a little black girl (Joy Birch). The main characters are trying just as hard to rescue Joy as they are to rescue Anna. Also, Joy is actually rescued first; Anna isn't rescued until near the end of the movie.
Named After Somebody Famous: Holly Jones was the name of a child kidnapped and murdered in Canada. Alex Jones runs the Infowars tin foil hat web site.
No Name Given: Detective Loki's first name is never used. On a briefly glimpsed business card his name is shown as David Wayne Loki however.
Not Helping Your Case: After Keller starts suspecting Alex Jones of being the kidnapper/serial killer, Alex completely refuses to give Keller any information about where the girls are, even under torture. He usually refuses to plead his innocence, either; most of the torture scenes just involve Alex just staring at Keller or talking nonsense. And it turns out he does know where the girls are, so if he had said so to Keller much of the movie could have been avoided. But he's not the culprit, and this is a rare case of Not Helping Your Case being a justified trope: it turns out that Alex is used to being treated badly, so he probably refused to tell Keller anything because Keller was acting like the true culprit. Not to mention that his disability meant that even if he wasn't abused he probably wouldn't have been much help.
Nothing Is Scarier: We never see what Alex looks like after all of the torture Keller put him through. From the brief glimpses we see, it sure doesn't look pretty.
We do actually see him at the end of Keller's initial tactic of simply beating the shit out of him. He looks absolutely horrible. Then Keller changes gears...
Rage Against the Heavens: This is the culprit's motivation for the child abductions and murders; the culprit has a grudge against God, so the culprit is kidnapping children so that their parents will turn into revenge-crazed monsters, and thus there will be less souls on God's side.
Red Herring: Bob Taylor is initially set up to be the "culprit" of the movie. He has an appropriately creepy personality, he's evasive when Detective Loki comes knocking at his door, he purchased child-sized clothing and is in possession of bloody child-sized clothing as though he's kidnapped and murdered children, and there are body bags in his house that have snakes in them, just to let the audience know what a sick bastard we're dealing with...nope, it turns out Bob's not the main villain; he was just a previous kidnapping victim that imitated the villain because he went crazy.
Torture Always Works: well, not quite. Alex certainly knows more than he's telling about where the girls are, but he's already incredibly traumatized from years of suffering at the Jones' hands; being cruel to him is exactly the wrong thing to do to get answers.
Trailers Always Spoil: Averted, kind of: Melissa Leo's character is barely shown and seems to be unimportant to the story, though quite the opposite turns out to be true. However, this has to be one of the few examples of a poster containing spoilers: the maze in the "O" is a big clue, especially if you notice the pendant around the corpse's neck the first time you see it.
Wham Line: "You were there." from Joy to Keller in the hospital. For just a second it seems like maybe he's actually the guilty party, but then you see the flashbacks to the maze books and it all starts to make sense...
Earlier in the film, "They didn't cry until I left them." Spoken by Alex Jones in the parking lot, which prompts Keller's He Who Fights Monsters streak as he becomes certain this means Jones kidnapped the girls. Actually, while Jones does know where they are, his statement was literally true: the only thing Alex Jones did was take the girls for a joyride. As he was leaving, Holly Jones "decided they should stay", and that was what made them cry.
You Have 48 Hours: Alex Jones has to be released due to lack of evidence after 48 hours in custody.