The cold-blooded, gut-churning intensity of Michael Haneke cinema takes an unexpected voyage to Spain with Kidnapped, a technical humdinger of a horror film that devours its audience with all manner of depravity and brutality. Truthfully, the picture is punishment, often stumbling into superfluous rage, but there’s plenty of slick filmmaking mischief here to examine when the movie gets sloppy with harsh acts of shock value.
Freshly relocated into an idyllic home, Jamie (Fernando Cayo) and Marta (Ana Wagener) are ready to celebrate the new surroundings with a special dinner, while their daughter, Isa (Manuela Velles), is eager to sneak off to a party with her friends. All possible evening plans are cut short when a trio of masked home invaders storm into the dwelling, demanding credit card information and cash. Forcibly separated from his family and ordered to empty all local ATMs, Jamie is left alone with his captor, madly searching for a way to break free and rescue his loved ones. For Marta and Isa, the situation is much bleaker, with the women left alone in the company of a sexual predator, hoping someone from the neighborhood will hear their pleas.
In many ways, Kidnapped is essentially a loose remake of Haneke’s brainy slasher film, Funny Games, only lacking the grim sophistication of a sneaky moviemaking experiment. In place of cheeky artifice, director/co-writer Miguel Angel Vivas heads to a feral area of survival, ignoring the psychological nuance of captivity to charge full steam ahead as a deafening scream machine, transforming Kidnapped into a 80-minute-long routine of intimidation and punishment, with every last sob for help and mercy explored in full. The vocal intensity is exhausting, watching as the family is threatened with violence for the majority of the picture, with the invaders established as men on the prowl for a monetary reward, but also clearly interested in a few sadistic encounters along the way.
This prolonged fixation on suffering generates the desired pitch of repulsion (a genre necessity), but it also detracts from the basic suspense needs of the picture. The gimmick of Kidnapped is how the action is captured with extended takes, bashing the camera around the house as the family searches for a way to evade their captors. The concept is appealing, giving the hostility a creative feel of unpredictability, assembling a few bravura shots that deliver satisfying jolts. However, the visual achievement is drowned out by the unrelenting reminder of agony, a level of torment that comes across almost cartoonish at times, as though the actors were afraid their performances would get lost in the intricate shot construction. Vivas doesn’t portion out the fear with precision, he hoses down his film with distress, smashing the sinister illusion during a few critical moments.
Kidnapped goes gratuitously dark in the final reel, exiting on a brutal note of sexual assault and bloody survival that’s excitedly executed, but almost predictable in its overkill. Vivas raises so much hell during the picture, the sucker punch conclusion is drowned out by all the noise, with a grand summation of malevolence crippled by artless anguish. Kidnapped endeavors to leave viewers a quivering mess by the time the end credits arrive (scored ironically with upbeat music), but all that’s truly valued from the picture is its hearty cinematographic achievement.