This past summer saw a barrage of remakes, sequels and adaptations pass through Hollywood. From a financial standpoint, they make perfect sense: release something that already has an established brand and they are more likely to make money. Maybe that’s why Prisoners feels so fresh. Not only is it a completely original film, it is also one of the best films to be released this year. Adult audiences can breathe a sigh of relief that the summer movie season is over and the fall movie season has begun.

On a Thanksgiving day that begins like any other, Keller and Grace Dover (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) take their son and daughter over to the home of Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), a family with two daughters of their own, for dinner. After dinner, six year olds Anna Dover and Joy Birch head outside, telling their parents that they are going to the Dover’s house. Later that night, the families realize that their two daughters are nowhere to be found in either home. They report this to the police, which brings Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) into the investigation. As Detective Loki races against the clock to find the two daughters, Keller Dover begins his own investigation into the suspicious Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a man who may or may not be connected to the kidnapping.

Prisoners grabs you with an icy grip that doesn’t let go. The film is completely absorbing from its opening frame and it stays this way for the entire two and a half hour runtime. Director Denis Villeneuve does wonders with his first English language film, ratcheting up the tension and using the films atmosphere to gradually instill an insurmountable dread within the viewer. Anyone hoping to sit back and enjoy a relaxing movie had better look elsewhere because this isn’t it.

Even with a great director at the helm, all of his efforts would have been in vain if Prisoners didn’t have a fantastic story, but luckily the script from Aaron Guzikowski delivers as well. This is a smart film and Guzikowski doesn’t feel the need to dumb down the many twists and turns to the audience. With a script that will leave you guessing and great pacing, the film’s long runtime goes by surprisingly quickly. There isn’t a single dull moment in the film.

With the help of the script, the entire ensemble cast is able to fully develop their characters and deliver fantastic performances while doing so. At the films onset, the cast does a great job of portraying two separate suburban families. Even though the two daughters go missing early on in the film, we have already begun to care for the characters so that it has an emotional impact on us. Each member of the two families goes through their own grieving process and subtle nuances in the actors’ performances convey more information to the audience than expositional dialogue ever could

Sure to spark debate amongst audience members (does the end justify the means?) Prisoners is exactly what an adult oriented thriller should be: smart, brutal, suspenseful and so intense that you’ll be gasping for air. Not only is this film completely engrossing, but it also works as a thematically rich commentary on obsession, desperation and the human capacity for violence. I’d take that over another Superhero sequel anyday.

Prisoners receives 4/4