Written by: Miguel Angel Vivas and Javier Garcia
Directed by: Miguel Angel Vivas
Starring: Fernando Cayo, Manuela Velles, and Ana Wagener
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“We'll do whatever you say…"
My fear of home invasion is perhaps more subdued than most, probably because I go to great lengths to suppress it. There was a period in my life where every creak and groan in my old house would startle me out of bed and compel me to make sure the front door was locked. Nothing in particular inspired that fear, but I guess there’s just something primal about being invaded in a safe place when you're a kid. So it’s pretty easy to see why I don’t enjoy dwelling on it, even if the horror genre has given me plenty of reason to do so in recent years. Kidnapped is another film of this type that preys on the inexplicable nature of such violence and forces its viewers to endure an uncomfortable, uncompromising journey into violence.
A family of three are just moving into their new home. They’re an average family with typically average concerns: the teenage daughter (Manuella Velles) is a bit mouthy and wants to go out, her mother (Ana Wagener) wants her to stay in for the evening, and her dad (Fernando Cayo) doesn't care either way. The argument is quickly interrupted when a gang of hooded thugs burst into their home; they hold the mother and daughter hostage, while one of the men abducts the father and forces him to withdraw money from banks around town.
Kidnapped is a bit of a misnomer; I guess the father is forcibly ripped from his house, but really, this is a indeed an invasion flick. To its credit, it’s an very well-made one, featuring some powerful performances and excellent camera work. As an effectively taut thriller, it works on a visceral, gut-wrenching level. It’s a rather bleak exercise in violence that’s hard to consider entertaining--there’s the threat or rape and murder with no levity. And while there’s a place for these types of flicks, I like for them to have a little more meat on their bones. Of course, in some cases (like in The Strangers) the "less is more" approach works out; however, Kidnapped seems to dangle the promise of "more" in front of you before snatching it away. In the end, your tolerance for nihilism will determine how you'll stomach this one.
In particular, there needs to be a little bit more of a method behind the madness. The motivation behind the invaders is rather mundane; perhaps through no fault of the film itself, I just expected more. It doesn’t help that there’s a bit of a false opening; unless you have a sharp eye and ear, you’ll be a bit bewildered by the series of events, which seem to be offering some unseen portent that will explain it all. This never quite happens, and once you figure it out, you’ll still be left wondering what the point was; in short (and in the vaguest possible terms), the movie feels like it cheats--you’re expecting it to get to a certain point, but it doesn’t get there because the opening moments aren't at all relevant. These narrative gymnastics seem to be an excuse for the film to say, “gotcha,” but it’s an empty bit of cleverness.
It might sound like I’m miffed by the film’s ruse, so let me give credit where’s it due. For one, Vivas’s direction is slick and stylish. His dynamic camera angles, long takes, and use of split screen keep the film constantly moving and avoid any lulls. Vivas also coaxes some excellent performances out of his cast; everyone involved is understandably on the verge of hysterics. Velles is especially fraught and frail as the teenage daughter who is terrorized by the invaders; there are some intense showdowns that subtly boil over into a third act that’s filled with brutality. Though that might be taken from the pages of “pot-boiler” manual, it’s not completely satisfying due to the lack of cerebral thrills.
Ultimately, Kidnapped is content to bludgeon you over the head rather than get inside it. The blunt force trauma approach isn’t as fun without a bit of a creep factor. Then again, I doubt Vivas set out to put a smile on anyone’s face when he made this. Expect a grim-faced resignation instead. IFC has abducted the film from the festival circuit and put it into your living room via their On Demand channel; thankfully, they’ve opted for the original Spanish-language track that will be sub-titled in English*, so I can recommend that option. I just don’t recommend watching it before you go to sleep, especially if you live in morbid fear of home invasions. If anything, it captures the sheer, disorienting terror of that would entail. Rent it!
*Note: it's now come to light that the version currently available is a dubbed version, despite assurances that the film would feature the original language track. Buyer beware.
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