Originally reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2010.
A hallmark of Spanish horror in recent years has been the long take, something that’s been perfected by the disciples of Guillermo del Toro like “The Orphanage”‘s Juan Antonio Bayona and “Julia’s Eyes”‘s Guillem Morales and the filmmakers behind shockers like “[REC].” Of course, slow burns have always been part of the genre, but the lack of cutaways feel particularly disconcerting to an increasing ADD generation and have been used to convey a reality to the terrifying creep of zombies, ghosts and other monsters of the night. Strangely, the trend towards unflinching takes has largely ignored the horror potential of actual reality, something that writer/director Miguel Ángel Vivas appears to be well aware in his arresting sophomore feature.
I wasn’t counting, but I’d be surprised to learn if there were more than 50 cuts in “Kidnapped,” Vivas’ 86-minute endurance test about the home invasion of a well-to-do family who just moved into their new home in the Madrid suburbs. “Kidnapped” (or as the subtitles reveal its original title “Hostages”) doesn’t stray far from the formula one has come to expect of such films, save for a blistering opening sequence that shows the aftermath for a previous victim. There are three thieves, dressed in black, and a family of three, whose only conflict appears to be that their 18-year-old daughter Isa (Manuela Vellés) wants to go out with her boyfriend instead of partaking in a housewarming dinner. She is halfway out the door when the burglars burst through a glass window on the side of the house and proceed to tie up the women and dispatch one man to take the family’s patriarch Jaime (Fernando Cayo) out to collect money from various ATMs.
Whereas most filmmakers would derive their tension from the unknown, Vivas divides the screen into two as Jaime drives around the city to empty out his bank accounts and Isa and her mother Marta (Ana Wagener) are tortured by the two thieves who are waiting for Jaime to return. One can see the fear and uncertainty in Jaime’s eyes as he suspects the worst and Vivas simultaneously shows the audiences that what is actually happening to Jaime’s wife and daughter isn’t too far off. The split-screen is really the only concession Vivas seems willing to make to break the reality he’s constructed, not partaking in the darkly comic sense of humor or reaction shots for the usual pockets of relief. Sometimes the camera is trained on the floor or a shelf with family pictures on it as the echo of conversations trickle in the background, but for the most part in “Kidnapped,” the more you know, the more you clench your teeth.
Ironically, you don’t notice what “Kidnapped” is missing until well after it’s over – the characters, bad and good, all radiate an intelligence about what they’re doing that masks the fact they’re mostly variations on types we’ve seen many times before, the film is based in real time, but doesn’t work against a ticking clock, and up until the climax, much of its violence is inflicted psychologically rather than physically. Although I was mildly disappointed in the film’s ending, not because it betrays the spirit of what came before, but its tidiness wasn’t particularly satisfying, “Kidnapped” is such a display of muscular filmmaking that its shortcomings as a sophisticated drama will just have to cede to its impressiveness as a taut thriller. (The film’s brutality also raises the questions about audience complicity that Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” was intended to address without the wink; the idea that “Kidnapped” was made as an exposé of the very real problem of home invasions in Spain seems a bit opportunistic at best.)
As I overheard when the audience staggered out of the screening I saw, when someone heard his friend hadn’t made it into see “Kidnapped,” he didn’t even ask what he saw in its place, simply patting him on the shoulder and saying, “then you saw the wrong film.”
“Kidnapped” is now available on VOD and will open in theaters on June 17th.