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2nd Feb 12
Nice well-to-do Spanish family in pleasant middle-class community endure a night of Hell courtesy of ski-masked thugs with rape and murder on their minds. Not nearly as much fun as it sounds.
A single take opening sequence sets the tone for the audaciously filmed Kidnapped, which consists of 12 single takes, though allegedly pulls off the old Hitchcockian cheat of invisible cuts along the way. A guy in a suit wakes up in the forest struggling with a plastic bag over his head; in a bloodied, terrified state, he stumbles into the path of an oncoming car before phoning his family to warn them of intruders, only to be told “They’re already here…”
Kidnapped is a merciless entry in the home-invasion horror sub-genre with thematic and stylistic similarities to harder-edged European fare like the self-important audience-baiter Funny Games, which generated a similar level of discomfort despite director Michael Haneke’s insistence on telling us off for watching his own movie. At times you are reminded of the even harsher Irreversible, though it more directly follows strong mainstream entries like The Strangers and Cherry Tree Lane by succeeding as suspenseful entertainment while pulling no punches and refusing to offer a happy resolution.
Mum, Dad and 18 year old Isa have just moved into a nice middle class home in a gated Madrid community. Isa wants to go to a party but Mum wants the family unit to have their first night together at supper. Even when nothing unsettling is happening, the sense of impending doom lurks, heightened by the unease provoked by extended hand-held takes that constantly threaten to unveil a sudden burst of violence. Last year’s Uruguayan creeper The Silent House used the unbroken-take format to similarly unnerving effect.
Three Eastern European strangers in ski-masks break into the house and our expectation of imminent horror is fulfilled. One of them kidnaps the Dad to drive him into town and steal assorted lump sums of money from various ATMs (an ultimately irrelevant sub-plot common also to Cherry Tree Lane and Mother’s Day). The other two remain a constant threat to the mother and Isa while visitors to the house do not fare well, a la Inside. The claustrophobic technique traps us in the escalating nightmare and the use of split-screen allows for simultaneous unpleasantries.
Set to a discordant soundtrack, Kidnapped is an unrelentingly grim movie. The real-time violence is largely discreet but powerfully conveyed: a typical moment lingers on a shot of a twitching corpse for longer than we’d like while we hear sounds of screaming and suffering elsewhere in the house. Isa ultimately falls victim to a distressing but mostly off-camera rape, signaling the movie’s climactic descent into hopelessness.
It’s a film of wholly persuasive performances. As the imperiled daughter, Manuela Velles reaches an extreme level of sustained hysteria that’s painful and exhausting to watch. This peaks with a moment of post-rape bludgeoning violence that might have been a triumphant bit of vengeance in a movie with a more positive outlook. The actors playing the mostly disguised aggressors are intimidating in that horribly convincing, interchangeable-thug way.
Kidnapped gives false hope with an apparent climactic release before abruptly kicking its audience in the teeth with a brutal, upsetting final sequence that offering no salvation. After rooting for this family’s survival during a terrifying ordeal of random violence, the most comforting way the movie can find to leave its audience is with a closing shot of a key, sympathetic character being in the stomach.