Camp 14: Total Control Zone

Lords of Salem had its moments, but for bone-chilling horror it was hard to beat the inhumanities recounted in Camp 14: Total Control Zone (see also: The Act of Killing). Speaking in hushed tones, in a sparsely furnished house, North Korea refugee Shin Dong-Huyk recounts his hellish upbringing in a prison camp, where he was born. Two other escapees—neatly dressed former members of the camp’s security apparatus—and smuggled footage shot within the camp push the film into the realm of unprecedented access; the men’s accounts of their life-and-death control over prisoners are chilling. German director Marc Wiese finds a rhythm and shoots it all as a respectful but persistent guide, with judicious cutaways to simple animated recreations. He builds Shin’s account bit by bit, to the dual climaxes of Shin’s treatment of his parents and disorienting escape, by which point we reluctantly understand the horrible logic he has learned. The film features a macabre comic highlight when Shin, on a worldwide tour re-telling his story, visits some gratingly chipper American activists in Los Angeles.

A World Not Ours

Another recollection of camp life comes courtesy of Lebanese director Mahdi Fleifel, though in this case the “camp” is Ain el-Helweh, a Palestinian refugee area that resembles a crowded city neighborhood of buildings and alleys. Engagingly paced, by turns mordantly funny and melancholic, A World Not Ours draws on Fleifel’s video diaries about Ain el-Helweh, which his immediate family left for Denmark but where he later spent summers. Using an eager-beaver voiceover, Fleifel broaches the tough realities of stagnation and desperation by going the personal route, introducing us to his circle of friends and family: his longtime pal Abu Iyad, a charismatic ex-PLO member who is utterly disillusioned; his loving granddad, grumpily chasing kids from his doorstep; and one mercurial neighborhood fixture who resisted Israeli soldiers as a teen and now tends to birds on his roof. Fleifel, in his feature-length debut, makes liberal and canny use of New Orleans jazz and other unexpected music to draw in English-speaking audiences, along with a focus on the fascination with the World Cup among camp residents (who side with the teams of other countries).

A Hijacking

Finally, to continue the theme of… confinement? A Hijacking grippingly plots out the seizure and ransom of a Danish ship by Somali pirates. Tobias Lindholm, who co-directed the prison film R, distinguishes his thriller with credible detail about techniques on both sides of the crime, some good casting (especially the shipping company’s CEO and the ship’s crew), a suspenseful use of phone negotiations (complete with satellite phone echo), and a harrowing sense of life on-board at the whim of dumb young footsoldiers with guns. It may make you reconsider that freighter vacation in the Indian Ocean.