Amish Abduction: Character depth and well-built tension elevate this Amish thriller
For years, Annie Baker (Sara Canning) has enjoyed a blessed life in her small Amish community. Alongside her husband Jacob (Steve Byers) and their young son Caleb (Liam Hughes). But recently, Annie has begun to notice a change in Jacob: He’s short-tempered, distant. And has begun showing interest in life among the English. While her parents John and Betty (Andrew McIlroy and Gabrielle Rose) advise her to stand by her husband. Annie becomes increasingly afraid of Jacob. With her worries being increased after she learns of a man who was found dead not far from their village.
One day, Annie is horrified to wake up and find both Jacob and Caleb gone. Her husband having fled to the city with their son. Intent on getting full custody of Caleb. With help from Jacob’s brother Thomas (Ryan Bruce). Annie fights to maintain custody of Caleb and bring him home. But with Jacob proving himself capable of doing anything to get what he wants. Annie will have to fight to protect herself. And her son from the man she once loved…
Coming off the heels of the misfire of Was I Really Kidnapped?, Amish Abduction‘s beginning had me fearful it would replicate the former film’s grave error of presenting us with a main heroine who was near impossible to connect to. But whereas Elle Whitland was hard to connect to due to an uneven performance. Annie Baker appeared to be going down the Unintentionally Unsympathetic route by starting the film angry at her husband for expressing a desire to have a life outside their Amish village. With her dismissals of Jacob’s wants as “Devil talk” and her later branding him as a disgrace for wanting to leave their village. Annie appeared to be going down an unlikable path.
But as the film progresses and the depth of Jacob’s hidden dark side is revealed. Annie’s unsavory qualities are alleviated when you see that—for all of her anti-English beliefs. She is ultimately most concerned with keeping Jacob from separating her from her son. And is not as blind to the problems within her community as she initially appears to be. Sara Canning averts the stumbling blocks that Michelle Mylett hit while playing Elle Whitland by consistently portraying Annie as a woman rocked by her husband’s abusive transformation and determined to protect her son from him. The third act has Canning delivering her most powerful scene. In which she confronts her father about the culture of sexism that exists within their village and how she will continue to protect Caleb from Jacob. Even if it means having to go against archaic customs and risk being shunned.
Matching up to Canning in acting prowess is Steve Byers as Jacob. Who brings a fierce and unstable malice to his character as Jacob’s actions toward Annie and Caleb go from bad to worse. After a slow build-up over the course of the first act. Jacob’s true colors come to the surface by the second act. With Byers throwing himself into Jacob as he is built up into a cruel, self-centered. And misogynistic monster who becomes especially frightening by the climax.
But even with all of that, Amish Abduction (Cuong Doat) sets itself apart from similar Lifetime films about women fighting to escape violent men by painting Jacob with shades of nuance. In addition to his desires to leave the Amish life and Annie’s callous reaction to them initially being sympathetic. Byers also plays Jacob in a way that, despite his darker moments.
You believe there was once good in him. Through flashbacks of happier times in the Baker marriage. And the few scenes where Jacob allows a vulnerable side to be seen. Byers allows you to see glimpses of the man Annie fell in love with. And to wonder how much influence the past tragedy that befell the Bakers had on Jacob’s eventual meltdown. It’s an exploration I wish the film had gone further with. And not allowed to be vastly overshadowed by Jacob’s dark side. But Amish Abduction deserves credit for bringing some dimension to a well-worn character type in Lifetime’s roster.
Liam Hughes transforms Caleb into another likable child tritagonist to recently grace the screens of Lifetime. With his best scenes centering around the emotional anguish Caleb goes through as a result of Jacob’s actions. Ryan Bruce is charmingly adorkable as Jacob’s polar opposite brother. And Annie’s protective ally Thomas. With him and Canning sharing an instant chemistry as they work to get Caleb back home. Iain Belcher is effective as Jacob’s sympathetic parallel Samuel. And Andrew McIlroy plays well off of Canning in their scene together when Annie stands up to her father for trying to guilt her into staying with a dangerous man. On the lower end of the side character scale is Gabrielle Rose’s Betty Baker. Who never receives the same character growth as John. Despite sharing in her husband’s sexist ideologies.
When it comes to being an intense thriller (phim hanh dong). However, Amish Abduction more than shines. With the action starting off at a moderate build before ramping the tension up as Jacob proves more and more dangerous. Add to that a stellar main cast and well-rounded characters that provide them with depths to delve into. And you have a fun Lifetime thriller that serves as an excellent directorial debut for Ali Liebert.