A Fantastic Fest ’10 review


Guillermo Barrientos

Dritan Biba

Fernando Cayo

Martijn Kuiper

Manuela Vellés

Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas


Having watched both Darren Bousman’s Mother’s Day and Miguel Angel Vivas’ Kidnapped at Austin’s premier genre festival, Fantastic Fest, within about 24 hours of one another, I was intrigued by the way two films could take essentially the same premise and execute it in such completely different ways. Admittedly, I didn’t like Bousman’s film as much as my esteemed editor, Ryan Rotten, but what I was drawn to in Vivas’ film is that it seems to actually be about something. And while it may not necessarily be about something entirely new or original, the fact that its ambition extends further than to see how gruesomely it can depict violence on screen makes Kidnapped a noteworthy film not only at Fantastic Fest but in the entirety of today’s often-barren horror landscape.

The film stars Fernando Cayo (The Orphanage) as Jaime and Ana Wagener (the upcoming Biutiful) as Marta, a middle-aged couple who are moving into a new home with their daughter Isa (Manuela Vellés). Their problems are the usual ones – mother and daughter butt heads, with dad stuck in the middle; but when three masked men break into their home, their simmering familiar friction begins to bubble over. As Jaime drives one of the kidnappers to an undisclosed location, Marta and Isa are left at home with the other two men, and a power struggle ensues between the kidnappers and their hostages that ultimately results in dire consequences for everyone involved.

As suggested above, many of the plot details of this film are similar to Mother’s Day, as well as any number of home invasion horror films released in the last few years. But the marked difference other than this film’s technical execution (it’s filmed in 12 extended-take sequences) is that the kidnappers are real people, and perhaps more importantly, people who see violence as a professional necessity rather than a personal indulgence. Their threats are real and their hostility is terrifying, but they aren’t cruel or hurtful for their own sake, or thankfully, the film’s.

As horrible as it might sound, Kidnapped empathizes to some extent with the criminals, at least insofar as there are some awful things that they must do in order to “get the job done.” But even though Vivas unquestionably gilds the lily by including some truly nasty stuff, he makes it an organic and therefore believable part of either individual character development or the story as a whole.

That said, however, the film is firmly in the corner of the victims, and the fact that Vivas does not glamorize the violence creates a palpable sense of peril, not to mention sincere concern for the family. Suffice it to say there are a few moments that give the audience pause whether they would make the same choice, but Jaime’s occasional dishonesty, or later, desperation; is understandable. But Vivas doesn’t want us to necessarily believe that we in fact would make the same choice, he wants us to think about the emotional repercussions of that sort of invasion – into our homes, that presumable fortress of safety and security – and the reaction you might have if you felt like your life or your family members’ lives were at stake.

There are, however, a few things in the film that I could have done without, if only for originality’s sake. For example, the trio of criminals is conventionally populated by a mastermind, a remorseful first-timer, and a wild card, and while these may be authentic personality types for that particular line of work, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that “wild card” characters provide easy shortcuts to drama that could otherwise be created organically through other, smarter storytelling means. And although it’s thankfully depicted with understated graphicness, I seldom if ever need to actually see someone being raped, especially since (in this film) it feels like one too many offenses for the family to have to endure.

Thankfully, Vivas’ directorial style, combined with thoughtful writing and believable performances, either excuses or elevates almost all of these shortcomings. The film’s extended takes, which are fluid and clean, create not only a spatial continuity, but a genuine sense of tension as events unfold. All six of the main characters are rendered in indisputably human dimensions, even when their behavior moves into more cinematic territory. And the collective impact of the film’s story adds up to significantly more (both emotionally and thematically) than the events that occur within its plot.

Mind you, Vivas’ film is bleak and uncompromising, to say the very least. Horrible acts lead to equally horrible repercussions. But the difference that distinguishes the film is that what happens doesn’t seem to come from a screenwriter’s imagination as much as the characters’ natural (or at least believable) impulses, and that makes the violence something that not only has real weight but means more than the act alone. Of course, the fact that Kidnapped generates (much less contains) any deeper emotions at all makes it a significant achievement within a typically shallow subgenre. But by offering something exploratory, substantive and ultimately cathartic, Vivas ensures that his film will not only be remembered, but re-read and reexamined over and over again, while the rest of the ones that are like it are forgotten.


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