Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas
Miguel Ángel Vivas’ Kidnapped (Secuestrados) is almost a structuralist exploitation film, obsessively meditating on editing, split screens, and holding continuous shots for 15 minutes at a time. But beyond technical dedication, the piece’s predictability and lack of unique point-of-view are frustrating.
The opening shot is of a man with a bloodied plastic bag tied around his head. He wakes and starts breathing heavily, each breath pulling the plastic into his mouth. He tears open the bag and makes a call. His daughter tells him his wife has been shot.
Our next sequence follows a family moving into a new home through their mundane squabbles and details. As portrayed by Cayo as papa Jaime, Wagener as mama Marta, and Vellés as rebellious daughter Isa, they seem like a typical, well-to-do Spanish family, but we know what is going to happen next. We saw it on the poster; we saw it in the trailer. Something horrible is going to happen.
Three men, dressed in black with ski masks, invade the house, demanding valuables. They are here not only for cash, but for ultra-violence … reams of it. We see attempted rape, bludgeoning, and tearful begging for mercy, which this film does not have for its characters or its audience. And though well-crafted and well-acted, you really don’t get a sense of who these people are (neither the family nor the criminals). Sure, this situation is nightmarish, but is that enough to care?
Part of the problem might be Vivas’ choice of a naturalistic style in combination with a very linear framework. Both the Dardenne brothers and John Cassavetes are acknowledged by Vivas as visual influences for this piece. Their styles layer hand-held shots and natural lighting to achieve a documentary style. That style is then combined with storylines that are mostly character-driven, where the focus is on intense and detailed acting, on unpredictable and truthful behavior – a mimesis of life. While Vivas is also trying to capture the “actuality” of a home-invasion, he forgets about the nuanced characterizations which help connect the audience to the story. What we are left with is a lens into a cruel event but very little insight.
Many critics have been comparing Kidnapped to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, a film that is quite the opposite in that it is intellectualized and highly stylized, even meta (in one scene the killer changes the film’s plot as with a remote control). Though that film is relentlessly violent, characters are much more developed on both ends (family and the killers), and there is at least a wit and a point. When watching Kidnapped…well, it’s just about watching folks who are kidnapped. In an interview with Vivas (click here) the director revealed that home invasions are his biggest fear, and this film might just exist as a vessel to exorcise his childhood demons — to relay the worst is maybe to banish it from your mind.
What is interesting to note is that the film is made up of only 12 shots. I don’t know if this strategy enhances the intensity, but it does lend itself to the realistic, real-time style Vivas is trying to create. The film’s split screen technique also reinforces this sense of urgency. As simultaneous events happen, we watch them unfold, side-by-side on screen much like in Hitchcock’s Rope.
In the end Kidnapped is an exercise in style in service of a premise with very little depth. At 99 minutes it is not a total waste of time, but you can stream Funny Games on Netflix Instant now. I would almost suggest you do that instead.
2 1/2 out of 5
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