Sunday, 4 March 2012
How many times can a familiar plot be rehashed and remade before audiences tire of it? Formulaic retreads of stories we’ve seen a thousand times before clutter the cinema listings, and lack of originality is something we lament. With that in mind, Manuel Angel Vivas has charged himself with the task of breathing new life into the age-old idea of a family being held hostage in their own home. But does his conceptual staging and technical expertise make for a compelling picture or a triumph of style over substance?
On the day that they move into their new home, affluent couple Jaime (Fernando Cayo) and Marta (Ana Wagener) are attacked. Their house is broken into by three armed men who power their way into their lives, beating Jaime to the ground, and terrifying Marta and the couple’s teenage daughter, Isa (Manuela Vellés).
After collecting the whole family’s credit card details, Jaime is driven to an ATM where he is ordered to withdraw the maximum amount permitted. In the meantime, the women are left in the company of an increasingly unhinged and sadistic robber and his more reasonable sidekick. As things become increasingly tense, the tension is ramped up between each separate faction: Jaime and his kidnapper; the invaders who remain in the house; Marta and Isa. How will this brutal and terrifying ordeal be resolved?
Opening with a close-up of a head wrapped in a plastic bag, the film lurches into life as the mysterious figure sucks in a loud lungful of air. The camera swivels to a new perspective as he stands up, stumbles and lurches blindly across a wooded park. Amazingly, he manages to miss tree after tree as he panics and struggles to breathe. Eventually, he makes it onto a road where he is, unsurprisingly, knocked down by a car. It’s a clever camera trick, which ensures the shot is never broken, as the driver jumps out of the vehicle and helps him phone his home. At this point, it is revealed that his family have been taken hostage – and his wife shot.
It’s the first of just twelve long, complex camera shots which make up the film. It’s an extremely impressive, hyper-real introduction to the movie – horrifying, with moments where your heart jumps into your mouth. It also sets the tone from the outset, introducing a menacing tone of mystery which whets the appetite superbly.
Following the credits, the scene shifts to a more domestic one, as Jaime, his wife and daughter settle into their new house. It’s a scene which starts Jaime’s car, moves throughout numerous rooms in his house, incorporates his entire family and removal men, and shifts its focus to different characters as it progresses. It’s a tour-de-force of choreography – strangely reminiscent of the restaurant scene in Goodfellas – as it moves the camera tracks characters up down and around their home. Uncomplicated in content, but enormously technical in its execution, it ought to be a happy scene – yet it is underpinned by the knowledge of what took place in the opening scene, and the creeping tension which comes with prior knowledge of what genre flicks like Kidnapped have in store for their audience.
As the family bicker and argue over whether Isa ought to be allowed to see her boyfriend, their evening’s plans are smashed to pieces as three masked men break into their home. They punch Jaime in the face, bloodying his nose, and order the women onto the sofa. It’s loud, brutal and fast-paced – and the start of a horrific night for all concerned. The camera moves quickly and energetically between all six characters, dialogue is tense and hard to follow – especially as some of the characters are Albanian and not subtitled. The fact that the scene is fractured, without the shot ever been broken, serves to underline the danger and the pandemonium fantastically. It’s an uncomfortably claustrophobic experience which places the audience in amongst the action.
In the traditional story arc of films such as these, there then follows a period of orders being barked, power being established, and the captives aiming to appease their tormentors. It’s fairly formulaic stuff, differentiated only by the style and the unusually high standard of acting. Whilst the villains are rather stereotypical, the family is less so – they are slightly older than you might expect with little to distinguish them from the norm. As a result, the performances need to be likeable yet nuanced enough to grip the audience – something the cast manages despite the high octane action and complicated choreography.
Sadly, as things become increasingly tense and dangerous, the film begins to grate. The pace is utterly relentless and very bleak – there is little respite from the action, despite the use of split screen showing two scenes played at different paces. The familiar clichés of sexually obsessed captors and inquisitive policeman rear their predictable heads, and the level of violence (some of it sexual) increases.
It rapidly becomes clear that Kidnapped has nothing new to say, despite finding a new way to say it. It succeeds in drawing the audience into the situation, and even placing them at the centre of it. Sadly, what it lacks is textural changes or occasional let-ups in the pace. It hurtles towards a pretty predictable ending like a runaway juggernaut, and despite being almost unbearably tense, it is ultimately unsatisfactory.
Kidnapped is an easy film to admire, but a difficult one to like. All the gimmicks and trickery in the world can’t disguise the fact that once the technical wizardry has been stripped away it is a pretty standard thriller. As an experience, it is unforgettable. Sadly, that experience as akin to being relentlessly bludgeoned. Hopefully, Vivas will return next time with a story which matches his undoubted skill.