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Kidnapped (2011)
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by Jay Seaver

"Impressive, but draining."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I'll say this for Miguel Ángel Vivas: He is committed. He knows exactly what he wants to do with this movie - what sort of terror he wants to put the characters and audience through - and he goes for it with an admirable focus and determination. It's not always a pleasant journey, but the film is as tense as a hostage drama should be; it certainly hits its targets. The question is, then, whether or not the potential viewer wants to see those targets hit.

A scene before the title gives the audience some idea of what's to come, but for a bit after that, the tension is of the familial variety: Jaime (Fernando Cayo) and Marta (Ana Wagener) have moved into a nice new house in a nice development in the suburbs, and their teenage daughter Isa (Manuela Vellés) is not thrilled to have been yanked away from her friends. There's a party tonight that Isa wants to go to with her boyfriend César (Xoel Yáñez), and that leads to a bunch of "we're spending our first night in our new house together as a family", "but papa said", and so on. By the time the night is over, though, Marta and Jaime will wish they'd let Isa go out, and maybe done something themselves - three masked men with Eastern European accents (Dritan Biba, Martijn Kuiper, and Guillermo Barrientos) break in, hold them hostage, and threaten unspeakable things if they don't co-operate.

Right from the start, Vivas and company don't mess around. The hoods are quickly established as ruthless and violent enough that questions of personal motivation are extraneous, or at least a distant second behind surviving the next five minutes. Even the most professional, intelligent-seeming member of the crew seems to be using a relatively crude calculus as to whether hostages who can withdraw money from ATMs or otherwise be used as leverage are more valuable than corpses who can't talk to the police, and Vivas gets a great deal of mileage from moments that clearly shift favor killing the witnesses.

Vivas and company work the traditional elements of a hostage drama masterfully. A jaded audience member knows to file away a conversation about how something coming out of one of the moving boxes is heavy and Jaime only puts up with it because it was a wedding present from Marta's family, but there still a bit of shock when it shows up again later, if only because of just how vicious the movie has become by then. The movie is a primer on how to divide characters up and then play on the characters' incomplete knowledge of what's going on in the other location while keeping the audience clear on who knows what. It's not for the squeamish - the violence is often either very bloody or very personal - but often an example of how high stakes equals high tension, and Vivas will go there. As much as they're going for a lean and mean feel, the camerawork and production work is often slick - that last split-screen shot has to be a clever (if invisible) bit of CGI work.

The cast is adequate to pretty good - once the home invasion begins, the family are working variations on terror and anguish, but they do it rather well, especially Manuela Vellés, who makes it very clear that hysteria isn't quite as easy as we sometimes think it is. Fernando Cayo and Ana Wagener are good, but she's great. Dritan Biba, Martijn Kuiper, and Guillermo Barrientos are each given a different type of thug, and do well by them, though Biba's leader is a bit harder to get a handle on; he seems to understand the detachment necessary for the job so well.

And yet, for as much as I'm impressed by most of the parts of "Kidnapped", the whole sits wrong with me. The good work is in the service of something unusually violent and nasty, and it can be too much. In a way, I'm glad movies like this exist, because the knowledge that filmmakers will occasionally go so far keeps every other thriller suspenseful, but find that actually seeing one can really be deflating.

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originally posted: 08/27/11 09:02:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2010 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2010 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

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  DVD: 29-Nov-2011


  DVD: 29-Nov-2011

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