Spanish Home Invasion Thriller ‘Kidnapped’ Teeters Between Elegance and Depravity
After a screening of Kidnapped at last year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, a fedora-wearing gentlemen standing next to me in the restroom line asked what I thought of the film. Still shaken by the Spanish home invasion thriller’s brutal and nihilistic closer, I concluded that it was nothing more than a snuff film. He disagreed by matter-of-factly stating, “Nah, snuff films aren’t shot that well.” Apparently not catching my use of hyperbole, I almost expected him to add, “That’s not true because snuff films are real and that was a movie.” No doubt he was one of the several viewers who cheered during the film’s uncompromising finisher while I exchanged worrisome glances with a friend, but the guy had a point; it is a really good-looking film. After recently watching it for a second time, the dismissive, knee-jerk reaction I initially had was subdued in favor of a deeper appreciation of its often awe-inspiring technical prowess. Still, I find it difficult to admire a film that is so content with its own cruelty and pointlessness.
Opening with a prolonged shot of an unconscious man wearing a plastic sack over his head, the film establishes its tone fairly early while alluding to events to come. The focus then shifts to an affluent family of three who are moving into a large new home. As to be expected of any family-based thriller, internal conflicts are quickly and messily brought to the forefront as we learn that the rebellious teenage daughter wants to party with friends, while the mother envisions a quiet night in their new home. Meanwhile, the father chides his wife for being domineering with their daughter. Flimsy family drama falls to the wayside as soon as the first burglar crashes himself through the window, and the remainder of the film’s lean eighty-eight minutes focuses on various acts of violence done upon the family as the invaders attempt to extract from them as much money as possible.
Along with the aforementioned bickering family, the robbers are as thinly drawn as the plot, as the cool-headed leader commands the rape-crazy, coked-up wild card and the hesitant new guy who pleadingly states, “I didn’t want it to happen this way.” The filmmakers make the most of the feeble plot by interjecting stylistic flourishes, such as extremely long takes and a highly-effective and liberal use of split-screen. The split-screen works remarkably well in ratcheting up the tension, and a scene in which the father’s calm retrieval of money at an ATM is juxtaposed with a chaotic fight between his family and their captors will result in many sweaty palms.
Perhaps the hallmark of the film is its use of just a few uninterrupted, highly-prolonged takes. Within the context of the film’s home-invasion theme, the use of long takes works exceedingly well in evoking a sense of time and space. Watching the events unfold in a real-time fashion without any cuts heightens both the realism and empathy, and the film is all the more harrowing as a result. The shots are dynamic and never boring, with several highly-choreographed (and often CGI-enhanced) action sequences thrusting the movie forward at a steady pace while making a short movie seem even shorter. Natural lighting further accentuates the setting, and the cinematographer deserves recognition for punctuating a film as harsh as this with so many gorgeous shots.
The film is a technical showcase on several fronts, but the film’s core is rotten. A film’s dramatic thrust is traditionally dependent upon the ability of its characters to make a series of choices, which in turn lead to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. In the case of Kidnapped, we watch as a bunch of bad shit happens to a family as they are able to do nothing about it, which in turn leads to a depressingly nihilistic conclusion that says exactly nothing about anything. Do films have some sort of obligation to mean something? I don’t think so. Many films are able to work on a purely cinematic level, allowing the viewer to revel in the visceral, multi-sensory impact, but not leaving much to think about afterwards. Kidnapped makes strides to work on such a level and even succeeds at times, but its thoughtless and mean-spirited content leaves the impression that such arguments are better left for movies that aren’t quite as dumb.
‘Kidnapped’ is currently playing in theaters (limited) and On Demand.