May 1977. 20-year-old Colleen Stan is hitching from Oregon to California to visit friends. With a little over 40 miles of her journey left, she accepts a lift from a young couple, Cameron and Janice Hooker. It's a fateful decision. Kidnapped at knifepoint, Colleen spends the next seven years imprisoned for up to 23 hours a day in a coffin-sized box hidden beneath her captors' bed. When not incarcerated, she is employed as the Hooker's slave and child-minder, and is gradually drawn into a bizarre and complex world of extreme obsession and fantasy... Based on a true story, GIRL IN THE BOX is a dark psychological drama told through the eyes of one of the crime's perpetrators, Janice Hooker. Janice came under the spell of the likeable and charismatic Cameron when just sixteen: but Cameron harbours a dark secret: an insatiable addiction to extreme bondage and S&M. Unable to cope with Cameron's ever more extreme demands, Janice strikes a deal: if Cameron will stop using her for his S&M ...
The movie is based on a real case that occurred in Red Bluff, a small town in Northern California roughly 3 hours from the border of Oregon. See more »
Abduction occurred in May of 1977. Hooker's car is 1978 or 79 Toyota Celica (that appears to have at least 10 years of cosmetic wear on it). In a separate documentary, Colleen Stan stated it was a Dodge Colt that stopped. See more »
The latest Lifetime "world premiere" movie, "Girl in the Box," was based on the horrific true story of Colleen Stan (Addison Timlin), which I'd read about previously in a true-crime paperback, who in 1977 was hitchhiking her way from Eugene, Oregon (where she lived in a difficult relationship with her mom and stepfather) to Westwood, California. She got as far as Red Bluff, where after turning down a couple of would-be pickups (one from a group of guys who were all too excited at seeing a young woman alone, and one from a couple who weren't going far enough for her to want to bother with), she got in a car with Cameron Hooker (Zane Holtz) and his wife Janice (Zelda Williams). Lifetime showed this and then a documentary about the same case in which Colleen Stan agreed to participate and revisit the scenes of her humiliation and seven-year ordeal: the home in which the Hookers lived and in which she was imprisoned in their basement and routinely suspended from a ceiling beam by her wrists and beaten by Cameron; later the trailer they moved into when Cameron's landlord started to get suspicious and told them that for insurance purposes he was going to have to enter their basement and inspect their furnace; and the truly horrific contraption Cameron built for her after that, since the mobile home didn't have a basement. Instead he built her a box, barely big enough to accommodate her, with an air pump to let in more-or-less fresh air and a bedpan for when she needed to use the bathroom, but not only was there no room to move in the box, it was kept bolted shut.
Judging from the documentary (and my memories of the book) Stephen Kemp told the story relatively factually, though with some odd changes; he has a set of marvelously kinky scenes in which Janice gives birth to a daughter (one of her justifications for going along with Cameron's kidnapping of Colleen was his promise that if she did so, he'd have normal sex with her and thereby give her the child she'd long wanted) while Colleen hears the sounds of her labor from the box under the Hookers' waterbed, but in real life that was the Hookers' second child and their first had already been born and was eight months old and in the car when Colleen was kidnapped. The film also builds up tension over Colleen's demands to be allowed to go home and see her family, which in the movie happens shortly before she's released but in reality happened about four years into her captivity — and the fact that she returned to Cameron after the visit became a key point in Cameron's defense when the police finally arrested him.
"Girl in the Box" is one of those stories that's so incredibly compelling even glitches in the telling can't sap it of its interest. The biggest area in which I give Stephen Kemp points is that he's able to make all three principals genuinely interesting characters rather than cardboard heroines or villains; Janice comes off as part-perpetrator, part-victim; Cameron shows off a real personal charm even though we hate him for his actions (one could see why a woman would fall in love with him and go along willingly with at least some of his demands, and the fact that he's a nice person on the surface and a villain only underneath makes him scarier than if he'd been played as a typical looney-tunes movie psycho); and Colleen comes off as a sympathetic victim but also an almost terminally naïve one. One of the cops who worked on the case called Cameron a "pure psychopath," which for once is technically accurate — the general definition of a psychopath is someone who regards other people as simply objects he or she can use however he or she likes, without any account for their needs or feelings at all — to the point where they can kill people and not feel a shred of guilt or remorse; they were just in the way and s/he got rid of them. The film's casting directors, Stephanie Gorin and Laura Durant, also deserve kudos for finding three people to play the principals who look strikingly like the real ones. "Girl in the Box" is a quite good film, occasionally oppressive in the fantasy sequences Kemp put in to emphasize Colleen's spirituality and its role in getting her through her ordeal (she never seems to have encountered what theologians call the "theodicy" problem — i.e., why an all-knowing and all-loving God would have let that horrible thing happen to her in the first place) but mostly well directed, well written and beautifully acted.
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