Film review – Kidnapped (2010)

The home invasion film is a sub-genre of horror that taps directly into the anxiety of not being safe even in the most familiar and reassuring of places. The villains in these films are not supernatural creatures or extra terrestrials, but people who would otherwise blend into mainstream society. The victims are not on an Indian burial ground nor have they gone camping in an isolated place in the woods. They are at home keeping to themselves. The homes and the people that feature in these films are more often than not identified as upper middle class, as these films express a radical class paranoia that the supposedly less agreeable members of society (criminals, teenagers, the working class, foreigners, people from housing estates, the mentally ill etc) are no longer staying in their place. It’s a genre ripe for nastiness, hysterical conservatism and in some cases heavy doses of both.

The best home invasion films of recent times have been Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers (2008) and both versions of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997 and 2007). The perpetrators in these films seemingly acted randomly for kicks, making them unpredictable and so much more frightening. In Miguel Ángel Vivas’s Kidnapped the Eastern-European invaders are after the tangible goal of acquiring money from their middle-class victims living in Madrid. However, the tone of the film and the escalating violence does evoke the style of Bertino’s and Haneke’s films rather than David Fincher’s Panic Room, which has some superficial narrative and characterisation similarities. Kidnapped doesn’t match The Strangers in terms of building up dread and suspense, nor is it interested in critiquing onscreen violence in the way Haneke’s didactic Funny Games films did. Nor does it match films like Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Inside (2007) in terms of sheer extremity. Instead Kidnapped is a middling film, although it does have some impressive elements.

Kidnapped: Isa (Manuela Vellés)
Isa (Manuela Vellés)

Kidnapped starts well with a disturbing and involving single take of an earlier victim dumped by the side the road. Over the next fifteen minutes the film then effectively and quickly introduces the family who are about to undergo hell when three men burst into their house. The father is taken to collect money from ATMs while the wife and daughter remain with two other invaders, one that seems reasonable and another who seems far more volatile and sadistic. This may be more an indictment on those of us who are somewhat desensitised to horror cinema, but much of what then follows doesn’t really engage. Bad stuff happens, but nothing that is particularly alarming if you’ve seen many of these types of films before.

Director Miguel Ángel Vivas is clearly a talented filmmaker and the extensive use of long takes are technically impressive even if they don’t generate the contained onscreen energy that long takes often create. Split screens are used twice to show dramatic events occurring simultaneously in different locations, but the effect is more distancing than involving. Both sequences would have possibly been more effective if edited together traditionally. There is a nice moment when the events from the two split screens come together to form a single shot, similar to the effect Roger Avary used in The Rules of Attraction (2002).

While for the most part Kidnapped is neither inventive enough nor dread inducing enough to be truly memorable, it does up the ante with the shocks at about the 60-minute mark. To the film’s credit, audience expectations about how far the film will go and how the various characters will behave are effectively undermined to allow the moments of nastiness to have their full effect. When Kidnapped does finally deliver it is impressive but it’s too little too late and has no real point to it other than fuelling paranoia about people from Eastern Europe to make it a minor entry into this usually far more confronting genre.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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