Wednesday, March 21, 2012


It wasn’t that long ago that the “home invasion” thriller was something that felt fresh and new in the horror genre, with films like “Them”, “Funny Games” and “The Strangers” leading the way.  Recently however, there seems to have been a glut of these types of films, so something that once felt fresh is now becoming the norm or worse, a cliché.  There really isn’t a lot you can do with the “home invasion” thriller to make it different or stand out from the crowd, in regards to story.  They all have a family being held captive in their own home while the criminals perform whatever task they have set themselves out to do, whether it is to just terrorize the family or if it is to rob the house of whatever possessions that may be of some value.  Eventually a family member may try to escape or protect his family, which results in the tension (and violence) to increase.  Like I said, this is beginning to feel like a cliché, so what can a director do when presented with this kind of material to be able to make it feel fresh and exciting again, and importantly, something that is a little different.  The answer is in the way he presents the film, via cinematic technique, which is exactly what director Miguel Angel Vivas has done with “Kidnapped” (“Secuestrados”) that makes it so fantastic and able to stand out from the pack.

“Kidnapped” does not stray from the normal set-up of these kind-of films.  It is about a family consisting of a mother and father, Marta and Jaime, and their eighteen year old daughter, Isa, who have just moved into a brand new home.  During the first night at the house, three hooded assailants force themselves into the place, holding the now terrified family hostage.  They are told to give up all of their cash and valuables, as well as their mobile phones and credit cards (with the pin numbers), and if this is done without incident, no-one would be hurt and the bandits would leave with their loot.  After they are satisfied that they have everything of value, one of the bandits forces Jaime to go with him in their car to an ATM so they can withdraw the maximum amount from each card.  He is told that if he tries to escape or talk to anyone once they are outside, he will call his friends, who are watching over the mother and daughter, and order their assassination.  As is the norm for these films, nothing goes as planned, as unexpected guests show up at the house, there is in-fighting amongst the bandits and eventually you know a family member will make some kind-of stand against these thugs.

This is an outstanding film from Miguel Angel Vivas, it is incredibly realistic and the tension is always kept to its absolute maximum throughout the whole running time.  However what makes “Kidnapped” something really special is the way the film has been shot.  The whole film is shot in incredibly long takes so that each scene is one single shot, which means that for the duration of the film’s 85 minute running time, there are only twelve shots.  This is just unbelievable when you watch the film because of all of the action that takes place, but it is obvious that an incredible amount of rehearsal would have been needed to pull this all off as brilliantly as it has been.  The camera can start a scene as one character’s point of view before it moves and the same shot than becomes an objective shot, but it is always done in a way that feels natural and doesn’t draw attention to itself.  The film begins very cleverly at what we assume is the end of the film with a character laying apparently dead with a plastic bag on his head (see poster).  He suddenly revives, calls his family, only to find out that they are all dead.  Normally when we see scenes like this at the beginning of the film, we assume it is a scene that the rest of the film leads into eventually, but here it is not the case, so while we may think that we are ahead of the filmmakers, that is not the case.  What we are witness to at the beginning of the film is actually the end of another robbery that this gang has committed, so while it may not have a great importance to the story we are about to see, it does reveal the lengths these criminals will go (something the characters within the story are unaware of), which helps in keeping the tension alive.  

The whole situation presented in “Kidnapped” is very realistic which again adds to the tension.  It is set up very nicely in the beginning with all of the family’s belongings being moved into the house by removalists, all while the family members go about their daily business.  Once the workers have gone and it is just the family that is left, the parents are in their room getting ready for dinner, while playfully arguing about a family disagreement.  It is during this moment of normality that the bandits unexpectedly break in by violently smashing a window.  It is such a shock because you just do not expect it, it doesn’t feel like the normal set up for a horror scare, it is incredibly realistic which makes it all the more terrifying.  To help keep this atmosphere, all of the actors pull off the fear of the situation, especially young Manuela Velles who plays the teenage Isa, so you believe that this is all happening now in the present.  Actually Manuela Velles probably has the hardest role in the film because it is her character that goes through the most physical and emotional turmoil and who has the biggest arc by the end.  Most of the violence in the film happens during the finale but when it does it is bloody and very painful.  This isn’t one of those horror movies where you go “Oh Wow! Cool effect!”, this is very real and extremely shocking.

As good as all of the above is, if there is one reason to see “Kidnapped” it is to witness the two split-screen sequences in the film.  After watching this film, I am sure that director Miguel Angel Vivas is a huge fan of Brian De Palma, who is often considered to be the king of split-screen filmmaking, but I even think that Vivas has actually one-uped the master by creating the best split-screen sequence I have ever seen, besting my previous favourite from De Palma’s “Sisters”.  Split-screen is usually used to show two characters performing different tasks at the same moment in time, and in “Kidnapped” we have two of them.  The first is when the women of the family separate themselves from their kidnappers and try to escape from a locked room.  Here we get the images of the girls trying to escape on the right side of the screen, with the bandits trying to enter on the left.  It is a powerful sequence with a great (and surprising) ending, but it is nothing compared to the next one.  The bravura sequence of the whole film is an amazing scene which lasts just over seven minutes in length which exhibits what both Jaime and Isa are doing at the same time while both are in different places, the father in the car with one of the bandits, the daughter at home.  I have no idea how they made the sequence work as perfectly as it does, because it is done to absolute pinpoint accuracy.  It is hard to talk about what happens in the shot because it nears the end of the film, but I will say that we follow these two characters via split screen for seven minutes which ends in a single shot of the father and daughter embracing.  Seriously the shot is stunning and I have never seen anything like it, and if for no other reason, you need to check out “Kidnapped” for this sequence alone.  I am sure even De Palma himself would be impressed by the scene.

Overall, while I understand that the graphic nature of the story may deter some people from seeing this film (not to mention the subtitles – did I mention the film was Spanish?), if you have any interest in cinematic technique and what can be achieved with it, I certainly recommend that you give “Kidnapped” a chance.  This is proof that if you be inventive you can still make a tired old cliché exciting and that is exactly how I feel about “Kidnapped” – it is exciting and bold cinema and I look forward to whatever director Miguel Angel Vivas delivers in the future.

4 Stars.

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