HuffPost Review: Kidnapped

There's dramatic movie violence -- and then there's sadistic, nihilistic movie violence. If you've got a taste for the latter, Kidnapped (opening in limited release Friday 6/17/11) should be right up your alley, calling to mind the equally repellent The Strangers (2008).

From Spain, the film is an exercise in audience manipulation (to the point of torture) that builds to a climax that is, at minimum, hateful. In some ways, it calls to mind the dreadful Michael Haneke film, Funny Games, in its willingness to pointedly foil audience expectations of what a violent thriller should be.

Except that filmmaker Miguel Angel Vivas isn't as dispassionate and chilly as the coldly vicious Haneke. He has made a movie that grabs the audience by the throat and takes it for a sickening thrill ride -- then crashes the car into a wall, just for the fun of it.

His film starts with a kind of bait-and-switch: an image of a man, his head wrapped in a plastic bag, his hands tied behind his back, unconscious on the ground. He comes to in what appears to be a park, gets to his feet and goes racing off, gasping for breath. He finally runs into a road, where he is hit by a car. The driver rips the bag from the man's head; the man begs him for a cell phone to call his house, then tells his daughter not to let anyone in -- but it's too late, the girl says, to the sound of shrieks and gunfire in the background. Smash-cut to the title card.

Perhaps it's just me, but because I couldn't clearly see the man's bloody face, I assumed he was the man I next saw: Jaime (Fernando Cayo), the owner of a new home in the countryside, who arrives to help his wife Marta (Ana Wagener) and daughter Isa (Manuella Velles) supervise workers who are emptying a moving van into the house. The incorrect assumption was that Jaime was the man in the prologue and that this was a flashback to how he got to where he was. Instead, it was just random, horrific foreshadowing.

We see the family later in the evening, with daughter and mother arguing about whether she can or can't attend a party with her boyfriend. Suddenly, three intruders dressed in black with black ski masks smash through a glass door and take the family hostage. They threaten violence unless the family coughs up their credit cards, ATM codes and the combination to the safe. The leader of the invaders then takes Jaime away in his car, to take as much cash as possible out of the ATMs.

The film then splits its focus, occasionally employing split-screen to show both locations. While Jaime tries to cooperate with and outwit his captor, Marta and Isa find themselves at the mercy of two less rational members of the home-invasion team.

The violence escalates as the stakes rise. Unexpected arrivals at the house lead to increasingly gruesome acts, as the trio of victims does its best to fight back against the attackers.

Certainly Vivas knows his stuff: how to build suspense and then crank it up some more. On the other hand, he relies on the nerve-wracking effect of women's screams and hysterical sobbing for tension. It quickly becomes grating, rather than unnerving, even as the violence itself increases in deadliness.

In the end, however, Vivas depends on both the ugliness of the carnage and the unending shrieks too heavily. And, finally, he disappears up his own ass with an ending that is infuriatingly ugly.

Which makes Kidnapped an exercise in audience torture more than anything else.

Click here: Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.