Exclusive: Inside the Mind of Miguel Angel Vivas, Director of Kidnapped


The home invasion thriller opens this Friday

Kidnapped might be the toughest film you see all year. An endurance test that questions how much brutality you can take. You’ll take no pleasure in watching Miguel Angel Vivas’ latest directorial effort, but there’s something hypnotic about how he goes about depicting a relentless home invasion and the family who suffers at the hands of three attackers. Shock had the good fortune to talk to Vivas about his vicious film (opening in limited release June 17 from IFC Films) and the creative thought process behind Kidnapped‘s aesthetic.

Vivas is presently at work on Welcome to Harmony; we got him to open up a little bit about that one as well.

Shock Till You Drop: We’ve seen a lot of home invasion films before, was this inspired by any specific real-life events?

Miguel Angel Vivas: It’s not based on any single event, but it’s based on many. It’s true, there have been a lot of home invasion films and some of them are interesting, but in my opinion, a lot of them are too stylized and fictionalized. They show the situation and intellectualize it in a detached way. I wanted to do something that was much more realistic and visceral. I started to investigate these situations and talk to people about these types of attacks all over Europe. As I researched, I found reality goes beyond fiction. The things that do take place – the violence – are much harder than what anyone has shown. Viewers may think my film may be harsh, but it doesn’t compare to how dramatic it happens in real life. It’s amazing how far human beings can go and how much damage can be done to them. Based on that, I decided I didn’t want to just tell a story. I wanted to recreate an experience. I wanted the viewer, in their flesh, to feel what it would be like to be kidnapped and be under attack.

Shock: With all of the research you had done in mind, were there any points where you felt you were going too far with the violence? Or perhaps did you feel disappointed that you were holding back?

Vivas: Maybe we did go too far. Some people say that. But I think we were careful in dealing with this kind of subject. I’m aware of the risks of it. Everything we showed was perceived as believable, I think. It doesn’t matter if something is true or not true, what matters is if it’s believable. To explain myself better, I know that in real life some attackers tortured their victims with iron sticks. If I showed that, viewers would walk out and not have tolerated that. So I needed to show things that were real and true. But at the same time, if I made it too real, I would have put people off. The whole time I’m walking on thin ice. And I think I walked well on that fine line and finding that balance.

Shock: How do you mentally prepare your cast for this kind of experience? Were there any moments where they felt they were being pushed too far?

Vivas: For me, it’s important to work on the physicality of the scenes with the actors, as well as their feelings. The way I worked on this was to do a lot of prep with the actors. We spent weeks together on the family first. Worked with them by doing a lot of improv and exercises to flesh out their back stories. I wanted to get them to a stage where they felt like a true family. Once we did that, the audience would buy it. Then we worked on the moments of terror. I wanted to make sure they could get to that stage. I made it clear to them from the outset what I expected from them and if they were not into that, I needed to know so I could find other actors. But they agreed to being pushed into those waters.

Shock: You had mentioned that other home invasion films were stylized, but I think Kidnapped has an interesting visual language all its own. You implement split screen a lot. Can you talk about your decision behind this choice?

Vivas: Like I said, I wanted to create an experience and to realize that, the visual component was fundamental. In order to show how people would behave if they were trapped in this situation, I thought the audio and visual components were paramount. The way to do it, was to have long one-shots. Having cuts in a movie modifies the space for the spectator. When there’s a cut, well, it’s a cinematic trick in action. You know you’re in a movie. It’s artificial. Having no cuts, you’re removing that cinematic component and the experience is more direct and natural. You’re a filmmaker kidnapping the viewers and, for them, there is no way out. You’re in the house with the characters. They have no way out, you have no way out. I had to work closely with the camera department to create a dance between the actors and the camera. It was as if they were engaged in a sophisticated dance scene. I’ve always hated movies where people sit around and talk. I like a lot of action and my camera is always following around these people who are using their space and moving. As a spectator, we’re wondering what they’re doing, but the camera lets us know. I strived for the naturalism of the ’70s and I think this style inspired me.

In the film, I have two spaces. We’re inside the house and we’re outside with the car while the father is forced to the ATM machine. You have to connect these two spaces with editing, but I didn’t want to play with those cuts. I tried to solve this dilemma and so I used the split screen until the rhythm builds and builds and the split screen becomes one single space. I’ve received some criticism because some people said they found it hard to choose where to watch. But I don’t understand that. I did that because I wanted my viewer to become an editor himself. As you watch the action on this split screen, you’re editing your own film watching these two spaces. When it converges, they no longer need to edit.

Shock: What can you tell us about your upcoming film Welcome to Harmony?

Vivas: I can tell you it’s going to be very different from Kidnapped. It is a horror film, an apocalyptic film based on a novel. It’s an exploration of human behavior and it’s about two survivors. I’m going to investigate how people react in a situation like that and it’s going to be very scary. It’s has a bit of 28 Days Later in it.

Watch the trailer and view images from Kidnapped right here!

Source: Ryan Turek, Managing Editor

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Weekend: Feb. 27, 2020, Mar. 1, 2020

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