Review: ‘Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare,’ starring Dean Cain and Kristy Swanson

February 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kristy Swanson and Sophie Bolen in “Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare” (Photo courtesy of Virgil Films/Collide Distribution)

“Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare”

Directed by Joel Paul Reisig

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Detroit area and briefly in Chicago and Houston, the dramatic film “Trafficked” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A 16-year-old girl is kidnapped and forced to work as a prostitute, while her family frantically searches for her with the help of a private investigation team.

Culture Audience: “Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching low-quality crime movies that have unrealistic scenarios, bad dialogue and terrible acting.

Shane Carson, Tevis R. Marcum, Mark Boyd, Dean Cain and Garrett Thierry in “Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare” (Photo courtesy of Virgil Films/Collide Distribution)

“Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare” warps the very disturbing and horrifying crime of sex trafficking into an atrocious melodrama with acting so bad that it’s almost a crime itself. The movie is also filled with racist stereotypes that are downright offensive. And the sloppily written screenplay includes a vigilante plot development that is not only unbelievable but it’s also dangerously irresponsible in how this scenario is resolved.

“Trafficked: A Parent’s Worse Nightmare” (directed by Joel Paul Reisig) has too many inaccurate portrayals of how law enforcement and private investigators deal with sex trafficking. The filmmakers should be ashamed of themselves for exploiting the damage and trauma done by this horrendous crime, just for the sake of making a “cash grab” movie. Tacking on some religious preaching in the film doesn’t make this exploitation any better.

There’s absolutely nothing educational or informative about “Trafficked: A Parent’s Worse Nightmare.” People already know that there are online predators who can lure victims into doing all sorts of things. This awful movie examines how a fictional suburban Detroit family reacts when a 16-year-old girl in the family is kidnapped and forced into prostitution after she was targeted by an online predator.

There are so many things wrong with the movie’s direction, acting and screenplay (which was written by Reisig, George P. Saunders and Scott Voshel) that it’s a lesson on what not to do in filmmaking and what not to do if a loved one becomes a victim of sex trafficking. The movie opens by introducing the Detroit private investigator who’s supposed to be the “hero” of the story: John Belton (played by Dean Cain), who thinks he’s above the law when he commits crimes in order to make himself look like a good investigator.

The first scene in the movie shows John going with three men from his team to storm into a run-down house filled with tattooed thugs who are involved in underground dog fighting. John and his small squad have rifles and are clad in camouflage fatigues, as if they’re in military combat and on a raid. John calls himself Captain, based on on his military background of being in the U.S. Marines. Because he and his team are trespassing with guns and have forced their way into the house, it’s automatically a crime, since it’s an armed home invasion.

The criminals scatter, as John and his men yell at them to leave the house, but one of the goons has blockaded himself in a room with a gun. It isn’t long before John and his crew break down the door and surround the thug, who quickly surrenders by giving up his gun. What’s the reason for this home invasion?

John tells the cornered criminal: “You stole a dog—a rich man’s dog. Rich men don’t like having their dogs stolen. Paid us good money to track you down.” The man offers to give back the dog, but that’s not good enough for this ill-tempered private investigator. John then proceeds to beat up the unarmed man, while John’s underlings look on in approval.

During this vicious assault, John tells the thug that he wants the names and addresses of all the people in Detroit who are involved in illegal dog fighting. John then orders one of his underlings named Tex to plant a stash of cocaine in the house. Tex gleefully says the stash of cocaine is enough for a “life sentence.”

Exactly who are the good guys here? In the real world, a defense attorney for any these dog fighters would have a field day with all the crimes committed by this corrupt private investigator and his team. It’s as if the filmmakers have no idea how the law works when it comes to how evidence is supposed to be legally collected and what’s admissible in court.

Later, at the headquarters of Belton Private Investigations, a smug John has a meeting with his small staff to let them know that the Detroit Police Department has busted the dog fighting ring. Now that it’s been established that John will break the law to get what he wants, viewers can predict what unrealistic and illegal things he’ll do to solve his next big case when a 16-year-old girl disappears and her family hires him to find her. There’s some horrid vigilante nonsense in the movie that’s almost laughable if the crimes weren’t so serious.

The kidnapped girl is Allison Riley (played by Sophie Bolen), who has a happy and comfortable life in suburban Detroit with her father Case (played by Mark Boyd), who’s a real-estate agent; her mother Joanna (played by Kristy Swanson), who’s a homemaker; and Allison’s younger sister Rachel (played by Stella Shoha), who’s about 13 or 14 years old. Joanna’s mother Barbara (played by Nancy Wagner) is also around a lot, although it’s unclear if she lives with the family or not.

Allison is first seen horseback riding with some teenage friends from her high school. She’s in good spirits because the next day will be her 16th birthday, and her family has a party planned for her at their home. Allison is also feeling great because she’s been flirting with a guy online named Tyler, whom she hasn’t met in person yet.

Tyler is supposedly slightly older than Allison, who’s mildly teased by her friends about her online “boyfriend.” Rachel also knows about Tyler, but Allison hasn’t told her parents about him. The parents will soon find out about this secret “boyfriend” and how Allison was lured right into a kidnapping trap.

The night before her birthday, Allison is chatting online with Tyler, who persuades her to meet him that night. She then sneaks out of the house to meet the guy who calls himself Tyler, who picks her up in his car. He’s a good-looking man in his late teens or early 20s.

Apparently, Allison never bothered to ask for this guy’s photo because when she gets in the car, she asks him, “Tyler?” And he says that he’s Tyler. “Where are we going?” Allison asks this mystery driver. “You’ll see,” he replies.

And the next thing you know, the guy hands over Allison to a couple of thugs for some money. Allison is kidnapped, and she’s thrown into a room with other underage teenage girls who are locked in animal cages. They all look as terrified as Allison. As soon as she’s held captive, Allison is told that if she tries to run away or get help, her sister Rachel will be the next to be kidnapped.

The next day, when Allison doesn’t show up at school and her after-school birthday party, Joanna is convinced that something is wrong. Her husband Case is less worried and thinks that they shouldn’t panic. In a very unrealistic moment, he tells the party guests to just go home. In a situation like this in real life, the parents would’ve asked the party guests to help them look for Allison and to contact them if they find out where she is.

Another plot hole in the movie is when Joanna finds out that Allison has an online boyfriend named Tyler whom Allison had planned to meet in person in the near future. But instead of trying to find out more about who he is, Joanna just gets a little upset that Allison didn’t tell her, and Joanna lets that crucial information slide right by her and doesn’t bother to check Allison’s laptop computer. (Allison took her phone with her.) Most parents would immediately search their missing child’s room for clues on what happened and where the child went, but these dimwitted parents don’t do that.

Joanna contacts the police and insists that something bad has happened to Allison. The cops who come to the house to question the family say that if Allison doesn’t show up in 48 hours, then the family can file a missing persons report. Joanna tells the cops that Allison isn’t into drugs or alcohol, has no psychological issues, and would have no reason to run away from home. When the investigating cops ask if it’s possible that Allison temporarily ran off with the mystery boyfriend, Joanna adamantly says no, but Case says yes.

The cops remind Case and Joanna that Allison was reported missing two years ago, but it was a false alarm because Allison had spent the night at a friend’s house and didn’t tell her parents. Joanna flinches at the reminder, but she is firm in declaring that the situation is different this time, because all of Allison’s family, friends, schoolmates and their parents don’t know where she is. The cops leave and tell the Rileys to wait and see if Allison shows up within 48 hours.

Joanna doesn’t want to wait that long. She asks Case if his “pothead” friend Kessler knows anyone who can help investigate quicker and more effectively than what the police can do. Kessler is never shown in the movie. The next thing you know, the Rileys are referred to Belton Private Investigations. John answers the phone when Case calls. John asks some basic questions and tells Case up front that his fee is $20,000 to start the investigation, and then $20,000 a week after that.

It’s a little out of the Rileys’ price range, because they’d have to dip into Allison’s college savings to pay for the investigation. Case is reluctant to do that and he thinks that they should wait for the police to investigate. Joanna feels the opposite way and thinks they should immediately hire John. Joanna and Case start to argue about it until Joanna’s mother Barbara interrupts and says she’ll pay for the private investigation.

The members of John’s investigative team are a motley group of people:

  • Tex (played by Tevis R. Marcum), the oldest one in the group, appears to be in his late 50s or early 60s. He taught John a lot of fight skills, and he’s very loyal to John. Tex’s specialty is to talk to white people who have connections to the criminal world.
  • Biggs (played by Shane Carson) is somewhat of a jokester. His specialty is to talk to black people who have connections to the criminal world.
  • Aaron (played by Brian Papendrea) is an egotistical computer nerd who sometimes clashes with Biggs. Aaron does almost all of the technology-related work for the team.
  • Karen (played by Maria Wasikowski) is assertive and not afraid to stand up to Tex, who has a tendency to be condescending to her. Much to her annoyance, Karen is often tasked with going undercover as a sex worker or talking to sex workers to get information.
  • Maggie (played by Eileen Hayes) is the office secretary who is very religious. Her ties to the local church community will come in handy in this investigation.
  • Ben (played by Garrett Thierry) is the newest person on the staff. Because he’s a young, good-looking guy who’s less intimidating than Tex and Biggs, Ben is responsible for interviewing Allison’s friends at her high school. Ben gripes when he says he’d rather interview female college students, not underage girls.

As for the pimps who kidnapped Allison, they are all African American men who are written with every conceivable worst stereotype that you can imagine. The ringleader calls himself Daddy (played by Deon Hunt), and he insists that his prostitute prisoners call him Daddy too. His real name is never revealed in the movie. Daddy leads a group of about four pimps, but it’s implied that there are more thugs in his criminal network that he can call on if necessary.

Some of the prisoners are young women, but most are underage girls. The victims are all of different races, but it’s repeated throughout the movie that Allison is considered more “desirable” than the non-white females who are held captive because she looks like an innocent white girl from the suburbs. The pimps take turns raping a new prisoner such as Allison before they force her to be a prostitute. The movie doesn’t show these rapes in graphic detail, but it’s made clear that is what the pimps are doing.

Daddy and his fellow pimps make their prisoners go to motels and private homes for their prostitution activities. And these pimps openly drive around in a van, Mercedes or Cadillac with a bunch of young girls, who are dressed like hookers, going in and out of the cars in groups—and somehow all of that goes unnoticed. These thugs might as well have the words “Pimps R Us” on a car license plate, because that’s how obvious they are.

What’s disgustingly racist about this movie is that it makes it look like the only people who kidnap women and girls for sex trafficking are men who aren’t white. It’s a stereotype that’s very inaccurate, because the reality is that people (men and women) of all races commit these crimes, but you wouldn’t know it from how it’s portrayed in “Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare.” The movie plays into racial bigotry and ignores the fact that trafficking victims are most likely to be trafficked not by strangers but by people they know, who are usually the same race as the victims.

The majority of Detroit’s population is black, but the filmmakers perpetuate racist stereotypes of pimps in a scene where Daddy calls a pimp in Houston to do a trade of prostitutes. And the pimp in Houston is Latino. Meanwhile, all the prostitution clients are portrayed as middle-class or wealthy white men who look like “respectable” people.

There are predictable scenes of Daddy forcing the prostitution prisoners to take pills, which he calls “candy.” And there’s an unnecessary scene of Daddy driving his grandmother back to her home from church and giving her some cash as a gift. His grandmother thinks that he’s a good man and has no idea how he got that money, so the scene is supposed to show that Daddy is leading a double life.

After the 48 hours have passed, the Riley family files a report with the police. When the cops find out that the family has already hired John as their private investigator, they warn the Rileys that John will just get in the way of the police investigation, because the police are going to interview the same people and check the same places as John and his team. The cops advise the family to save their money and let the police handle the investigation, but the Rileys have already committed to John and want to keep their options open.

The kidnapping victims have their phones, photo IDs and other personal items taken away from them by the pimps. However, as shown later in the movie, Allison is allowed to temporarily use her phone to quickly call her parents and lie to them by telling them that she’s safe in Chicago with her “boyfriend” and that they don’t need to look for her. It’s an obvious lie, but that doesn’t stop this dumb movie from having a plot development where one of Allison’s parents has a temporary meltdown and starts to believe the lie that Allison is somewhere with a boyfriend they’ve never met and that maybe the family should give up looking for her.

As weeks stretch into a month, and Allison still hasn’t been found, Joanna and Case have very different reactions that are the opposite of how they felt when Allison first disappeared. A month after Allison has gone missing, Joanna becomes disillusioned with John and wants to fire him, especially after she finds out that he was dishonorably discharged from the Marines and he’s an alcoholic who’s been to rehab three times. Joanna now thinks John is a scammer. Meanwhile, Case disagrees and thinks they should stick with John, even though the family’s money is starting to run out.

This disagreement on how to handle the investigation leads to a marital rift between Joanna and Case. He temporarily moves out of the home and stays in a hotel, where he makes a drunken phone call to John. It’s one of the more ridiculous scenes in the movie because it manipulates people into thinking that a certain desperate act is going to happen but it doesn’t. Case also goes behind Joanna’s back to do some things that lead to the cringeworthy ending of the movie that will have viewers rolling their eyes at the silliness of it all.

The dialogue in this movie is woefully idiotic. And the acting by almost everyone in this film is very stiff and awkward. “Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare” is an insult to people who’ve lived this nightmare in real life and those who’ve died from it. Instead of wasting money to watch this pathetic garbage that calls itself a movie, people should donate to a reputable group that helps trafficking victims instead.

Virgil Films/Collide Distribution released “Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare” on VOD and DVD on January 26, 2021.