Title: Kidnapped (Secuestrados)
Director: Miguel Angel Vivas
Starring: Fernando Cayo, Ana Wagener, Manuela Velles, Guillermo Barrienttos, Martijn Kuiper, Dritan Biba, Xoel Yanez
A slick Spanish-French coproduction that was named Best Horror Film at Austin’s Fantastic Fest last year, ‘Kidnapped’ (‘Secuestrados’) is a gritty, efficient home invasion flick that should serve as a solid cinematic calling card debut for co-writer and director Miguel Angel Vivas.
Set on the outskirts of Madrid, ‘Kidnapped”s narrative is fairly pedestrian and familiar, and predicated on an audience’s enjoyment of the picture’s propulsive momentum as much as anything else. After a discrete opening segment which finds a bloodied man with a bag over his head stumbling down a grassy knoll and into a street, and oncoming traffic, the film charts the story of a family’s move into a new house. The father, Jaime (Fernando Cayo), is a white-collar suburbanite who’s a pushover for his headstrong 18-year-old daughter, Isa (Manuela Velles). Jamie’s wife, Marta (Ana Wagener), wants them all to spend their first evening together as a family, but Isa is set on attending a party with a boy she likes.
All of their plans, however, are scuttled when, after the movers have left, a group of masked men burst into their house, smash Jaime in the face with a gun, and begin rounding up valuables. After collecting their cell phones and ATM cards, one of the thugs leaves with Jaime, driving him to banks to empty out what he can from various savings accounts. The women, meanwhile, suffer a series of terrifying experiences at the hands of the remaining kidnappers, and find their abortive escape attempts turned back. The appearance of Isa’s date and, later, a wayward security guard also fail to substantively turn the tide in the captives’ favor.
Given the thinness of the premise, the Spanish language ‘Kidnapped’, a pure genre exercise through and through, is left to basically sink or swim on the strength of its execution. Director Vivas, working from a script co-written with Javier Garcia, doesn’t come up with any particularly savvy or novel breakthroughs in pleading or cajoling. His characters are templates, archetypes, and little more. Instead, his movie flirts with conventions and expectations, for a while seemingly hinging on pre-existent divisions within the criminal interlopers. (The psychopath with a heart of gold may be an emergent trend within this genre.) Almost as quickly as these possibilities develop, though, they dissipate. This dangled carrot of an escape hatch for Marta and Isa has the effect of increasing the the movie’s hopelessness, and sense of escalating tension.
Vivas and cinematographer Pedro Marquez construct ‘Kidnapped’ as a series of about a dozen extended takes, all captured via handheld camera. Whereas this tack is often jittery and a bit overused in low-budget efforts to evoke panic and discomfort, here, however, the shots are intelligently composed, all to focus attention on the action. Instead of goosing his audience, Vivas aims to chronicle the proceedings in a fairly dispassionate manner, while relying on his very capable actors to communicate the heightened emotions and stakes of scenes.
This approach benefits the material enormously, as does a fairly unobtrusive split-screen technique that chronicles Jaime’s panicked efforts to get home and one final escape attempt by Isa. Here, too, Vivas deftly uses the movie’s opening to create a creeping sense of confusion or discombobulation about where and how things will end. It’s not advancing any particularly new thoughts, or seeded with nuance, but ‘Kidnapped’ is effectively grim, no doubt. And for international genre fans, that certainly counts for something.
Written by: Brent Simon