Eddie Augustin’s Hostage is a well-directed thriller about an unfortunate burglary gone wrong. Mike Cannz star as Mark, who is robbing houses on Christmas Eve supposedly to buy gifts for his sick daughter. Unfortunately, he breaks into a house owned by a sociopathic family that kidnaps and tortures him. The father, Thomas, (Daryl Marks), the mother, Grace (Maria Jimena Osorio), and the teenage daughter, Ashley (Nicole Henderson), each have different ideas about what to do with Mark. The only question is who gets to make the final call and whether Mark can avoid a dark fate.

The poster for Hostage depicts a bound woman screaming in a cement room. It’s an unpleasant image that plays a relatively minor role in the film and really speaks neither to the tenor of the character-focused script (which Augustin also co-wrote with Laura Ashley Polisena) nor the locked-room nature of the film’s setting. Frankly, I think it’s poor marketing on the film’s part, promising a level of sexualized, gory horror that isn’t a major element of the story. Honestly, the poster turned me off, but I was pleased when it turned out to be misleading, although I could see horror fans seeking something similar to Hostel being disappointed when it’s mostly 80 minutes of characters talking.

There’s real tension to the piece, although it waxes and wanes as new backstories and subplots awkwardly arise. The characters are mysterious and seemingly contradictory at times, which is frustrating, although thankfully everything comes together in the climax.

My greatest nitpick involves Thomas and Grace’s flagrant use of racist slang. It’s in service of establishing them as villains, but given the fact they’ve already kidnapped, stabbed and drugged a man, it comes across as an unnecessary attempt at edginess. We’re decades out from when casually dropping the N-word felt at all appropriate, even in a story about three people kidnapping a man to torture him to death. Ashley calls them out, but it still feels like shallow provocation.

Hostage is Augustin’s feature-length directorial debut. Such outings often try to mask their low budget by amping up aesthetics or digging hard into exploitation to a difficult degree. Instead, Augustin keeps his eyes forward and makes an entertaining, suspenseful thriller with few surprises but plenty of efficiency. Pacing problems aside, the movie is consistently captivating and the single-room motif, although likely budgetary, is used to claustrophobic effect. For a debut feature, Hostage is effective. I only wish it were being more clearly advertised for what it is.