All of the great technical filmmaking is thrown away by having the movie turn into a brutally sadistic exploitation film.
Very rarely does a film start with so much promise and then go on to waste it all with just a few misguided steps. The new Spanish thriller from director Miguel Angel Vivas, Kidnapped, is that rare film. This film is so well made. Vivas is very confident behind the camera and has total command over his film. But he is led astray by a need to make the film way to violent. I don’t mind violence in film, I think I’ve stated that in the past, but this film goes way too far.
Kidnapped has one hell of an opening scene. The film opens on a man whose hands are bound behind him and a bag over his head. He wakes up climbs to his feet and starts to run. He soon finds himself walking blindly in traffic and is hit by a car. He desperately asks for a cell phone to make a phone call. He calls his house, he gets dire news.
The film cuts to our protagonist Jaime (Fernando Cayo). Jaime is coming home from work to his new house being filled by movers. His wife and teenage daughter are inside directing people and unpacking. The wife and daughter are having an argument about dinner taking place that night. His daughter was invited to a party and would like to go, but the mother believes that as a family they should have dinner together for their first night in their new house. In this argument I actually sided with the mother, but knowing what kind of movie I was in for I knew that it was a bad decision to not let her go.
Jaime eventually says she can go and as he and his wife argue about the decision, the villains of the film suddenly attack. Vivas handles this scene with perfection. The evil hooded men are from Eastern Europe and it seems like this is what they do. They find rich people across Europe and rob them. They take the family hostage and make demands. “Empty your cards” one of them says. “Or we’ll kill your daughter”, the other one finishes.
The next hour is a game of cat and mouse between the family and the home invaders. They are eventually split up as one of the henchmen takes Jaime out of the house to go to an ATM to empty his accounts. This leaves his wife and daughter at home. As Jaime is grabbing money, they fight back. Jaime is completely unaware of this and so is the man with him, who is the leader of the group.
The film on a technical level is stunning. Vivas shoots the film in extremely long takes. The film is only 81 minutes long and I read that there are only 12 shots in the entire movie. At first I almost couldn’t believe that, but I remembered that I was watching the timing on some of them and they did go over 7 or 8 minutes at times. Shooting without cutting creates a great sense of realism and at times, urgency. Both are very present in Kidnapped.
The camera follows the misery for minutes on end; at times it’s almost unbearable. From minute one on, there is a palpable feeling of dread. Even in the quiet scenes we know that certain doom is inevitable. Vivas builds on his top notch camera work by infusing it with great editing. While these long shots go on, there are times Vivas employs a split screen technique showing two events at once. In one scene he actually splits the screen when the scene is in one room. One side of the screen is one side of the room with the hero; the other screen is the other side with the villain. Showing both sides at once in two different shots as the protagonist and antagonist work against each other comes off brilliantly. One of the scenes involving split screen actually ends with both sides meeting up in the same room. The screens come together as the characters meet. This film is very well made.
All of the great technical filmmaking is thrown away by having the movie turn into a brutally sadistic exploitation film. The violence at the end of the movie I felt was very unnecessary. I don’t mind if you want to end your movie on a down note or sock the audience in the gut by having an unexpected ending, but does it have to be so brutal? Some of the on screen violence is actually insulting. I won’t ruin what exactly happens but let’s just say the teenage daughter goes through something no woman should have to. And the final shot (again involving the daughter) is a complete slap in the face of the audience. Very unnecessary stuff.
Vivas shows a lot of promise and obviously has loads of talent. His choice to turn the film into a barbaric sideshow is an unfortunate one. I’m hoping in the future he doesn’t rely on shocking his audience to get sympathy for his characters. I hate being so split on a film like this. On one side the filmmaking is of the highest order, on the other…well. It’s too bad.