Spanish director Miguel Angel Vivas’ brutal home invasion horror/thriller Kidnapped has been described by some as a more-visceral version of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, a film that makes the audience feel as if they’re experiencing the ordeal right along with the characters on screen. Now playing on VOD and coming out in limited theaters this Friday, it has also been much talked-about for a shocking (and divisive) narrative twist that takes place near the very end.
B-D recently chatted it up with Vivas, who spoke to us about the technical demands of the project (the film was made up of only twelve shots total) and the emotional demands the production put on his dedicated actors. Full interview inside.
[Note: Vivas spoke via a translator.]
Bloody Disgusting: The home invasion thriller has been tackled many times before. Did you look to any past home invasion films for inspiration?
Miguel Vivas: Yes, home invasion movies have been very popular. I knew it was the subject that I wanted to focus on for this movie, because it is a very personal fear that I’ve always had. I’ve often even had nightmares about that. Of course, I was inspired by other movies. The most famous one I can mention is obviously ‘Funny Games’ by [Michael] Haneke. However, I think that Haneke’s approach in his movie is…for me, [a] very detached and intellectual point of view. He intellectualizes violence by creating a distance between the viewer and what happens on screen. He [uses] that…approach to…say something about violence.
However, I wanted to talk about the same subject, but by showing in a much more visceral, in a much more realistic way how one would feel under those circumstances. Yeah, there was many films in this vein that I have liked the last few years, but I think what they all have in common is the detachment between the viewer and what goes on on-screen. Because of that…I really wanted to not tell a story like those other movies do, but make sure that the audience could have an experience, that they could share this experience. I started investigating and actually exploring and researching these kinds of attacks and these kind of situation, and as I was doing so I talked to a lot of people who told me, ‘oh, it would be just impossible for me to even imagine what it would be like.’
So I decided that that was what I would need to do. I would need to show people what it would be like. I would need to allow people to actually imagine what they would do, how they would react. I thought that that would be the right [way] for me to tackle this project.
BD: I understand that you constructed the film using only twelve shots. How difficult was that during production, and was that just a way to enhance the visceral feel of the film?
MV: Yes, of course, it is exactly like you said. I decided to do these long shots because it is this idea of the spectator being kidnapped and being in the same situation as the actors. In my opinion, the way it is cut in movies is that there are devices that fictionalize the viewer’s experience. The viewer knows that whenever in a movie there’s a cut, well that’s when the cinema-style trick comes in. You know that that’s the time when the camera stopped rolling, and the lights are changed, and the actor rests, and that [they apply] makeup, and maybe the special effects [are] put in.
I didn’t want for that sort of breathing space to be given to my viewer. I did not want to leave any way out to the viewer. I did not want for them to have any hole through which they could escape. And to me, a cut [is] a hole. I just wanted for them not to be able to get out, just like the main characters in the movie have no way out. So I knew that it would be very difficult to pull this off, and to do these long single shots because [not only would it] be difficult technically, but it would also be complicated because I did not want there to be static scenes where people just sit around and talk.
There is something that I’ve never been able to tolerate in those movies where people just sit on the couch and just tell the viewer about how they feel and what they think. I think that cinema is based on action, cinema’s about movement. I wanted to show my characters doing things. I wanted for my audience to get to know the character based on what the character did. And the actions themselves would tell the viewer how the character would think and feel. I didn’t need for them to say it straight out; it would be obvious based on what they were doing.
And [because] all this action had to be followed by the camera, it means this extreme long shot. But the camera would also not be static and always in the same spot. What I wanted to do here was to create a very highly-choreographed dance between the camera and the actors. So the camera would dance with the actor and would…at any given time…show what the actor was going through.
Because of that, within the long shot I changed the type of shot, I changed the point of view, and I had camera movements so that the spectator would almost forget that they were watching one single extremely long shot. Because of all the changes that I mentioned before, they would just watch the action and they would realize… all the [technical] devices behind them. And most importantly, they wouldn’t know that it would be a single shot. They would just feel the vision of being trapped there without even knowing why.
Technically, I was able to succeed in pulling off such a complicated project because I had a very talented crew that worked with me, and we actually rehearsed everything for a really long time. We had weeks of rehearsal. We prepared every camera movement, every shot…at the end of each rehearsal period for a long shot, we would actually video record it. Since we had a very limited for the shooting itself, before every day of shooting I knew that I wanted to pull off one of those extremely long shots a day…so I would need to actually have a successful take for one of those long shots per day.
So the way that we were able to accomplish that was that before the beginning of the shooting each day I would show that video that was done after all the rehearsals…that guaranteed our success.
BD: Considering how brutal and violent the film is, that method of shooting must have been incredibly hard on your actors. Can you describe the effect it had on them? Were there days where any of them had to leave the set to recover, etc.?
MV: Well, it was very hard on the actors, but the way I approached that is that I made it very clear from the get-go that that was the kind of movie that I wanted, and I explained to them exactly how I was going to work, what my process was going to be. I told them, though, that I was going to help them through it, that they would be supported by me throughout. And I’m very lucky because I found actors that were not only very talented, but they also…really wanted to go there. They really wanted to explore the kind of challenges that I was asking for them to explore.
We worked very hard, and we did a lot of rehearsal, we did a lot of prep work…I really wanted for the actors to know exactly what their character was about deep down. Because to me, what was really important was for everything to have a very natural and realistic feel…so their were of course difficult times on set, and there were times where the actors would swear at me and they would be harsh with me. Of course always with affection, there was a lot of affection among us on set. But we did have moments like that.
However, it was never a problem or an issue, because something that I told them from the start was that this movie was going to be a movie about imperfection. In filmmaking, when you have a traditional type of filmmaking [where you] work with cuts…you can do it over and over as many times as you want [so] the actor can actually ask the director to do it over again until the actor is satisfied. In this case…it was going to be impossible for the actor to fully grasp…whether each moment was good or bad or up to the standards that they wanted to work at.
So I [told] them straight out that they had to just trust me, and that they had to sort of rely on me…[and] just be confident that I would let them know…if I had what I was after. I told them to be prepared for parts of their performance not to be perfect, and that was going to be okay. Because I thought that in imperfection there’s actually a lot of interesting points. And since I was after realism and truth, I thought that the…[imperfect] performance level would add credibility and realism to the story. If everything is pulled off to absolute perfection, I think the overall result will come off as a lot less real.
So I asked them to trust me…and they actually did. I was really happy with that. For example, when a [character] on screen has a panic attack, that was really a panic attack because of the kind of acting that I was after…So after a take like…whenever we’d cut, then we would meet [for] ten, fifteen minutes where we would just go there, and I would hug the actors…I would cuddle them, and I would just care about them and talk about them until they managed to calm down. So we couldn’t just move on from take to take…we really needed to account for [the fact that] all that downtime was necessary for them to recover psychologically.
But I was really lucky, because as I said my actors were not just very talented and extremely good actors, but they were also really interested in really going for the kind of experience that I was asking of them. They went to places that they’d never been to before as actors, and that’s what they really wanted.
BD: I did want to ask you about your upcoming ‘Welcome to Harmony’ film. Where is that in the development process, and what else do you have past that that you’re working on?
MV: We are actually working on the second draft, we just finished the second draft of the script. It will be in English. It’s going to be a Spanish, French, and American co-production. We already have the Spanish and French producers on board, and we’re still finalizing the American component.
It is going to be a horror film in a post-apocalyptic setting. It’s going to be a film about friendship, about hatred, about connection, about sin, about love…about all those issues, but of course with monsters. After that we’re gonna see where it takes us [as far as taking on future projects]. But for the time being, I’m really committed to this project, I’m really working very hard on it, and I’m really happy about how it’s working out. I think it’s really coming together very nicely.
It’s…a story told from the characters’ point of view. It will show what happens to them as they are concentrating on their own feelings. It is gonna be, in a way, ’28 Days Later’ meets a John Carpenter movie meets [John Boorman’s] ‘Hell in the Pacific’.
BD: Sounds very ambitious.
MV: Of course, you can think it’s very ambitious, but in actuality it’s gonna be very pulled-together, very limited in scope, because it will be told from the point of view of the two characters that are the only two survivors after the Apocalypse. So the whole story will be told always from the way they see it. So we’ll make sure that it is not too out there. It is very confined.
BD: Is this a zombie movie?
MV: There will be a kind of zombie, but it will be sort of an evolution of the zombie. It will be kind of different than what we’re used to seeing.