Halloween Fifteen #7: Kidnapped (Featuring Robert Melton)

Kidnapped is a Spanish film, although if you watch it on Netflix you’ll have to suffer through the English dubbing. Like Funny Games or The Strangers, it seeks to highlight a dreadful moment in time for one family, when the normality of life is broken and strangled by thieves who want to see suffering in its purest form. The film depicts a home invasion/robbery, almost like a documentary in its unwavering view, and its brutal honesty is meant to disturb. Robert Melton of Funtober invades Kidnapped for his review.

Robert‘s Take

Kidnapped (2010) hits closer to home than I would normally expect from a horror film. When your home is your castle, you feel safe within its walls. But the fear and anxiety provoked by the thought that there might be a stranger in your home is remarkable. An unexplained noise within your house while you are home at night, alone, can be terrifying. If you have ever come home to an open front door, or an unlocked door, then you understand as well.

Directed by Miguel Angel Vivas, the movie portrays the home invasion of a Spanish family in Madrid by three masked intruders. Originally released as Secuestrados in 2010, the film was dubbed in English and re-released as Kidnapped in the United States in 2011. While watching the English version, I did wonder whether the Spanish version with English subtitles would better portray the appropriate tone and desperation of the husband Jamie (Fernando Cayo), his wife Marta (Ana Wagener), and their daughter Isa (Manuela Velles).

I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of horror movies, most likely because I have not seen enough of them. My first exposure to a horror film was in college, as my parents do not watch them. But I have been meaning to explore the genre more. And I thought that Kidnapped would be a solid movie to transition into the space. It made a big splash at the Sitges Film Festival and was named Best Horror Feature at Fantastic Fest in 2010. So I was hopeful that it was as much a psychological thriller exploring the criminals and victims during a home invasion as it was a horror film. And I love suspenseful thrillers.

The opening scene of Kidnapped is captivating. A man wanders through the woods as he gasps for air, his face covered by a plastic bag. He finds help but it is too late. The kidnappers are already inside his home. It is disappointing to learn that the opening scene is not connected to the action in the rest of the film. Instead, it merely sets the stage for the frequency and seriousness of the events that are about to follow.

Kidnapped is filled with interesting and suspenseful scenes, such as the opening, exploring the circumstances of home invasion. However, sections of the movie left me wonder whether the plot was moving fast enough for my taste. And, for a film that I believe attempted a fairly accurate portrayal of a home invasion, there were definitely scenes where I questioned whether certain characters were acting as they would in the real world.

Fortunately for the film, the action picks up substantially as the first hour closes. The final twenty minutes made the rest of the film worth watching. There is a dramatic period of split screen action monitoring the events inside and outside the home. An excellent portrayal of kidnapper frustration when things go wrong. Plot twists, suspense and the violence that one would expect from a horror film.

If you are looking for a classic horror movie with on screen violence from start to finish, Kidnapped is not for you. But if think you might enjoy a dark film exploring the suspense, terror and violence of home invasion, and do not mind the downtime that one would expect from a portrayal of this crime, then Kidnapped is worth watching. There were definitely moments that lifted my heart rate and put me on the edge of my seat.

The Moon is a Dead World’s Take

The home invasion genre has come to feel the same. It’s difficult to elevate the idea of terrorizing one family to another level, simply because the extremities of the plot have already happened. There aren’t many new places one can go besides getting more explicit with sex and violence, and by that point many viewers might feel that the shock value is simply there for attention. But I still pay attention to these films, because when they are done right, they break through to a moment of human psychosis that is deeply afflicting. When done poorly, however, they seem like they almost seem offensive, highlighting the worst of the human race in a way that feels glorifying. Thankfully, Kidnapped doesn’t revel in the terrors that it shows, but it’s also not on par with some of the better home invasion flicks.

A family moves into a new dream home in the opening moments of Kidnapped; the father, Jaime (Fernando Cayo), seems successful and attracted to his family, and he’s not portrayed with any sort of negativity to indicate the events about to transpire are because of nefarious actions. He’s a successful businessman providing a good life for his wife Marta (Ana Wagener) and his daughter Isa (Manuela Vellés). For the most part, they seem a happy family, and Kidnapped focuses on them before they are attacked, setting the scene of normalcy before the unthinkable begins.

It all occurs out of nowhere, and the audience should appreciate the way that director Miguel Angel Vivas has set this up. The long, lingering shots at the beginning of the film (despite being a staple of this subgenre) are meant to feel strange and awkward; they begin to become the norm, and that’s when Vivas strikes with his disturbing scenario. It’s when the viewer feels comfortable that three attacks burst through a window and begin to tear the house apart, even allowing Jaime to stanch his bleeding nose and give first aid to the injured Isa.

As the camera shoots its documentary-style footage, the viewer begins to feel more and more disturbed by the situation. We are unable to intervene; we watch, sometimes from a distance, as the attackers punch and slam the protagonists into things. The rage and brutality of Kidnapped is often difficult to take, and it’s nice to see that the film is willing to show these violent outbursts, because they set the tone while also incorporating some action into an otherwise glacially-paced film.

Jaime is kidnapped about half an hour in and taken to an ATM, where his attacker forces him to withdraw the maximum balance from his credit cards. Then they do it again at 12:01 AM. It’s a little farfetched to me that the attackers would find this method useful – that’s not a lot of money to withdraw, for one, and it’s also highly suspicious to banks, especially with Jaime looking so scared on the ATM video and talking to someone who can’t be seen on camera. Linking the killers to the crime might be difficult, but it certainly could happen, and for the thieves to have planned such an elaborate heist, it doesn’t fit the scenario.

There are a few other moments like this, where the realism of the narrative is interrupted by strange events that seem too stupid to make sense. An attacker invites a police officer into his house posing as Marta’s husband, even offering to make him a cup of coffee. I guess that the polite offer of coffee is supposed to make the officer feel like everything is fine in the house, but since he does not want to draw suspicion to himself, wouldn’t it simply be easier to assure the cop that everything is hunky-dory and get him to leave as fast as possible? Less blood, less cover-up, less hassle. That’s not how it works, though, because otherwise Kidnapped would have far too little action. Instead, it forces scenarios – a boyfriend comes over, then the police officer – giving the thieves fodder for disturbing situations.

Kidnapped uses a split-screen shot for particularly eventful action sequences, when two things are happening at once. It provides for some tense, visceral footage – we can see the boyfriend getting beaten up on one side, while Isa and her mother wait on the other side of a wall, helpless to do anything. But sometimes these shots can be awkward, especially trying to watch both sides at the same time. I think it’s a good idea, and there are moments here where the shots work very well, but perhaps greater regard for implementation needs to occur.

The film is quite brutal, and it doesn’t shy away from showing this violence. Still, the action is obvious, and sometimes I found myself wishing that the more disturbing scenes happened off-screen, not because I did not want to watch them but because the ideas that make your skin crawl happen inside your head. Showing them only reminds me that it’s a movie that I’m watching instead of real life.

It’s probably best to watch the Spanish original version of this film and read the subtitles, because the English dub is very poor. The dialogue is delivered flatly, sometimes in monotone, and there are moments where it feels like the emotion conveyed onscreen does not match with the voice. The amount of screaming and wailing is also a little much, and the annoyance factor can detract from the atmosphere of the film.

Kidnapped is a fair little film, but it’s action can often stagnate. It’s not the best home invasion film by far, but it’s a good entry, and if I had to rank it, I would put it above both The Strangers and Ils, simply because I thought this one established a better connection between the characters and also shocked me more than those films. Still, the film suffers because of the adherence to a very structured, unchanging plot that can become monotonous over time. It’s worth at least one watch, if only to decide if you’d like to kidnap it for your own collection.

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  • Maynard Morrissey

    One of my favorite flicks of 2011 and IMO the only home-invasion flick that comes close to the awesomeness of “Funny Games”.
    I adore “Kidnapped”!