Horror movie audiences think they would react with far more cunning than most movie victims. Why, if that were me, I’d grab the nearest sharp object and slice and dice my way to freedom.
Take that, Freddy Krueger.
It’s one reason ‘Kidnapped’ packs such a visceral impact – at first. The Spanish import, which screened at the Mile High Horror Film Festival Oct. 8 but will be available Nov. 29 on DVD, uses a naked sense of reality to bring us up close to a homeowner’s worst nightmare – the home invasion.
The victims here aren’t heroic or even remotely competent in their own defense. It’s a miracle they survive the film’s first few moments given their boneheaded attempts to save themselves.
An affluent Madrid couple and their headstrong teenage daughter are settling into their new home as the story opens. Their biggest worry is whether young Isa (Manuela Velles) will spend her first night in the home with her parents or out partying with friends.
A trio of masked intruders smash into the house before the minor crisis can be resolved. The men subdue the family members and force them to give up their credit and ATM cards as well as the respective pass codes. No one will get hurt as long as they do everything as told, the intruders warn. While one of the masked men takes the father (Fernando Cayo) out to wring every last penny out of those ATM cards, the other two keep an eye on mother and daughter to make sure they don’t try anything funny.
The poor family’s attempts to thwart the intruders is nearly comic, from pathetic escape attempts to a botched plan to ask a stranger at the ATM for help.
‘Kidnapped’ hardly boasts an original premise. The past few years gave us similar storylines in ‘The Strangers’ and ‘Funny Games,’ But this home invasion yarn is told with an assured sense of pacing and panic. Director Miguel Angel Vivas sets up the family dynamic with a few measured strokes.
The family members still address each other as “dear” and “darling” even when their lives are being threatened. It’s a humble gesture, but one that goes far in illustrating the tight bond between them.
What a shame, then, that the character development essentially begins and ends with those snippets of devotion. We have to wait until the final act before we get to know the intruders on even a primitive level, and the victims also reach the final scenes without much shading.
Are the intruders as vicious as they appear? Why was this family selected? The questions aren’t answered to our satisfaction, so when the screws tighten during the final confrontation we’re too detached to care.
Velles does make a bid for some sort of horror movie trophy with her performance. It’s reasonable to think a teen like Isa would be traumatized by the events in the film. But Velles turns that natural reaction into a scenery gnawing adventure that invites mockery, not pity.
The film’s finale is dark, for sure, and more hospitable horror fans may embrace it for these sudden, shocking moments. But the ending feels like a transparent ploy for genre gravitas.
The opening scene in ‘Kidnapped’ turns out to be its best. An unconscious man wakes up in the woods, his hands bound and a bag tied around his head. His connection to the main story isn’t readily apparent, but it’s a perfect way to establish the tone and terrors to come. We don’t know who he is or how he got into this predicament.
What’s missing in the rest of ‘Kidnapped’ is a similar sense of the unknown. This won’t be the last home invasion thriller we see, but let’s hope the next one builds on the can’t-miss premise more effectively than ‘Kidnapped.’