If you happened to miss the Lifetime Movie Network special Girl in the Box, well, you probably got more sleep than I did last night. Still, despite my disclaimer that this movie will linger in your mind long after the credits roll, you should watch it for a few very important reasons.
Based on a true story, Girl in the Box brings to the small screen the harrowing tale of Colleen Stan — an American woman who was kidnapped at the age of 20 and held as a sex slave for seven-and-a-half years by Cameron and Janice Hooker. This real-life sequence of events took place in the California town of Red Bluff, jarring the quiet community and later shocking the world.
In the Lifetime film version, Addison Timlin stars as young Colleen, Zane Holtz as Cameron Hooker and Zelda Williams as Janice Hooker. Each played their part well, bringing to light the dark underbelly of society that often goes unnoticed.
And while Timlin and Holtz were very memorable, it was Williams — the daughter of the late Robin Williams — whose performance still haunts me.
Did this take place 40 years ago? Yes, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant or plausible today. In fact, the depravity we see in modern society seems unparalleled in history. People have even more advanced ways to inflict pain upon each other, and predators certainly seem to make full use. So, for women, Colleen’s tale is a cautionary one we can’t afford to ignore.
In the film, we see a young and carefree Colleen hitch-hiking to a friend’s birthday party. Granted, most of us know now that it simply isn’t safe for a woman to hitch-hike. However, this scenario could still play out in other ways.
After all, accidents happen, right? Sometimes a car breaks down. Perhaps you don’t have cell service. Maybe you get a flat tire. You could be hiking, get a little turned around and wind up making your way back to your car in the dark. Or it could be something as innocuous as being at a party and getting convinced by a friendly looking couple to go somewhere with them.
Those scenarios don’t sound too far-fetched, do they? The fact of the matter is Colleen Stan thought she was being careful. Prior to climbing into the vehicle with Cameron and Janice, she had passed up the opportunity to ride in two other cars.
But when Colleen saw Cameron and, particularly, Janice, she felt safe. She never could have imagined that the couple would soon pull off the highway, put a knife to her throat and then lock her in a wooden head box.
Nor could she have imagined that the mousy and seemingly meek woman in the passenger side of the car would be complicit in Colleen’s seven years of torture… that the woman would have sex with her deranged husband below Colleen’s dangling feet as she was blindfolded and suspended from the ceiling.
This is precisely why Zelda Williams’ portrayal of Janice was so unnerving. Williams brought Janice to life in a way that underscored how unassuming, slightly awkward and entirely un-intimidating of a woman she seemed to Colleen.
To be honest, I’d probably interpret the woman the same way — especially given that Janice was actually cradling a baby in her arms when Colleen first met the couple (a fact omitted in the movie but revealed in the subsequent documentary).
As women, we are far more aware in today’s society of the threats we face from men. We have history for context, so we know that the handsome man offering us a ride could be the next Ted Bundy. The stories of male serial killers and rapists are predominant, so they naturally stand out.
What we sometimes lose sight of is that those men sometimes work in tandem with women like Williams’ Janice. Already damaged, she was a woman who would bend to meet her husband’s will any way he asked — even if that included torturing and enslaving another woman in a wooden box for 23 hours a day.
It’s horrifying. It’s important, too. While I’m a firm believer in women supporting and empowering each other, we also have to remember that we can’t trust everyone. If our gut is telling us to run, we should trust those instincts… even when the person we’re running from is another woman.
Williams delivered a compelling enough performance that, should I find myself in a potentially compromising situation like this at any point in the future (fingers crossed that never comes to fruition), I’ll see her character’s face and remember some wolves really do wear sheep’s clothing.