Director-cowriter Megan Griffiths refuses to sensationalise the tabloid aspects of this harrowing true story about human trafficking within the USA. As she follows the central character into a nightmare of forced prostitution, the film could have easily exploited the sexual situations. Instead, she takes a matter-of-fact approach that's deeply unsettling. The filmmaking may sometimes feel a little simplistic, but it raises issues in ways we never expect.
The true story begins in 1994 New Mexico, where 18-year-old Hyun Jae (Chung) goes on a date with a seemingly nice guy (Mechlowicz) and is suddenly sold into black-market slavery. She's renamed Eden and forced to work as a prostitute alongside much younger girls. Living in a series of warehouses overseen by crooked cop Bob (Bridges), Eden continually tries to escape and is met with brutal punishment as a result. Finally, she decides that her only hope is to get close to their pimp Vaughan (O'Leary), a young veteran with a drug-addiction problem. But as she gets to know him, she realises that he's trapped as well.
The film explores much more complex aspects of the captive-captor relationship, as Eden becomes increasingly close to Vaughan, helping him with his work and even ratting out some of the other girls who break the rules. Of course, there's an event that snaps Eden back to attention, leading to the necessary confrontation. But all the way through, filmmaker Griffiths focuses on the psychological and emotional side of the story, leaving much of the actual violence and sexual abuse off-screen. Just a bit more detail, and a clearer sense of the chain of events, might have made the film's gut-punch much stronger.
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