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Kidnapped (2011)

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Kidnapped
Starring Fernando Cayo, Ana Wagener, Manuela Vellés

Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas


A businessman awakens in the middle of a park, hands bound and struggling to breathe under the bloodied plastic bag secured over his head. Climbing to his feet, he sets off and frantically staggers into the path of an oncoming car. His face uncovered by the shocked motorist, the man immediately demands the driver make a phone call and hold the cell by his ear. He begs the girl on the other end, whatever she does, not to let anyone in the house. Her reply comes surprisingly calmly:

“Dad… they’re here. They shot mom.”

And so begins Miguel Ángel Vivas’ home invasion shocker Kidnapped. With that initial scene merely setting the tone for what is to follow, the focus immediately switches to family man Jaime (Cayo), his wife Marta (Wagener) and their teenage daughter Isa (Vellés) as they prepare to spend the first night at their grand new home in Madrid. In the midst of unpacking and preparing for dinner, Isa argues with her parents over wanting to attend a party that evening. Her mother, however, is dead set on them having a family night in to celebrate the move.

Unfortunately for her, the situation gets a lot worse than just being given the brush-off by her daughter when three masked men force their way into the house, bundle the family into the living room, and begin demanding valuables under threat of violence. After obtaining all of the family’s credit cards and ATM numbers, the gang’s leader takes patriarch Jaime off for a drive around town to empty the cards of their cash limits while the remaining two villains keep an eye on Isa and Marta. Events quickly escalate as various internal and external factors intrude upon the attempted robbery, leading to a gradually worsening visitation of pain, suffering and sheer brutality upon the innocent family.

So far, so standard in terms of home invasion flicks, but this is no Funny Games, The Strangers or Cherry Tree Lane. In terms of effect on the viewer, and the ultra-realistic display of inescapable horror forced upon the undeserving, Vivas’ Kidnapped is in a league of its own. Formed of a mere 12 continuous shots for the entire runtime, it’s an intimately constructed technical success – meticulous camerawork and perfectly employed split-screen presentation ramp up the immersion and ratchet the tension to near unbearable levels. One split-screen scene involving an escape attempt on one side of a door, and the beating of Isa’s visiting boyfriend on the other, is particularly impressive. The family are well presented and effortlessly sympathetic, even when some pretty stupid decisions are made, and Vivas also makes legitimate characters of his villains — throwing in a conscientious member of the invading gang and ably realising the ringleader as a cold, calculating, but not needlessly sadistic individual. Doing so prevents Kidnapped from being nothing more than a gallery of terrors or show reel of shock set pieces with no further worth.

Kidnapped is best approached with as little knowledge of what actually unfolds as possible so this will be kept brief. While, in terms of narrative developments, the Jaime-focused sections of the final act almost exactly mirror the events in Darren Lynn Bousman’s more-than-capable Mother’s Day, the events elsewhere will have audiences gasping with shock. Make no bones about it — this seemingly simple robbery descends into a cacophony of feral madness and a one-way trip to the extremities of human horror. Vivas isn’t out to take any prisoners, and the final twenty minutes of Kidnapped will leave you feeling shaken, battered and abused. This is the most genuinely horrific film of the year: It’s cruel, savage and pitiless – but never particularly dishonest, featuring some horrendously authentic violence (and a face-smashing scene to rival Irreversible), and while the final scene may feel a little too manufactured for shock value, the impact cannot be denied. When the credits begin, you’re apt to feel like you’ve just been hit with a sledgehammer so if you’re running on a schedule, factor in an extra five minutes for the stunned silence while your faculties restore. You’ll need it.

4 1/2 out of 5

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The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life

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Starring Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Paula Malcomson

Written and directed by David Freyne


Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.

Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.

The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.

Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.

Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.

Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.

The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.

  • The Cured
3.5

Summary

The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.

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Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed

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Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim

Directed by Brian Coyne


Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.

Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.

So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.

  • Film
1.5

Summary

I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.

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Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone

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Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters

Directed by Jeff Houkal


Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?

Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.

As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).

  • Film
3.5

Summary

Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”

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