Film

In Catch Hell Ryan Phillippe Directs Himself Being Kidnapped by Swamp-Rats

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It’s tempting to look at Catch Hell, Ryan Phillippe’s directing debut, as something of an incantation. Phillippe plays Reagan Pearce (note the initials), an on-his-way-down actor spinning his wheels in a Louisiana indie while looking for a role to change his luck.

One morning he’s kidnapped by locals — an aggrieved husband and his swamp-rat nephew — who chain him up in a bayou shack in order to torture him, and, improbably, hack into his social media. After a beatdown with a “gator thumper” — a nasty, heavy club that crushes Pearce’s hands (leaving his face largely unscathed) — Mike (Ian Barford) attempts to destroy his victim’s rep by uploading naked photos and anti-Semitic rants to Pearce’s Twitter account.

Barford’s performance is largely played in the key of hillbilly rage, and Phillippe’s Pearce never fully conveys the physical toll of his captivity. (As a director, he has other problems: Catch Hell suffers from both a drowsy start and a dragging ending.) More interesting is Junior (Stephen Grush), whose repressed gay urges come bubbling up once he’s alone with hunky Pearce, captive on a musty cot.

Catch Hell might not catapult Phillippe back into the spotlight, but as Junior, Grush is by turns ashamed, bashful, and dangerous; he could perhaps do more if given the chance.