Nihilism can make for a very effective tool when you’re trying to craft a rough, tough, and aggressive horror film. Once you show your audience that “all bets are off,” morally speaking, your film can (sometimes) start to feel like a loose cannon. In a good way. Filmmakers like Michael Haneke, Michael Winterbottom, and Pascal Laugier know this very well, which is why they’re able to compose stark and unflinchingly violent films that still have a point. Sometimes several.
The new Spanish import Kidnapped (aka Secuestrados, aka Hostages) clearly wants to swim in the deep end of the nihilistic pool, but its gut-punches arrive a little too late, and the divisively bleak nature of the film as a whole manages to suck a lot of enjoyable tension from the experience. It’s a technically proficient (even fantastic) film in several respects, but unfortunately Kidnapped loses points for the random pointlessness of its behavior.
Basically a home invasion thriller that’s not unlike The Strangers, Them, or anything else that can be readily described as, well, a “home invasion thriller,” Kidnapped opens with a casually unpleasant family: dad is permissive, mom is annoying, teenage daughter is obnoxious. That’s basically all we learn before a trio of vicious thugs break in to the house and commit all sorts of horrible atrocities on the family.
At its best moments, and there are several, Kidnapped delivers some very long, unbroken scenes that capably amp the tension up through sheer force of simple storytelling: we’re given a scene between a volatile psychopath and a horrified victim, and the tension rises exponentially with each passing minute. Director Miguel Vigas is supremely confident in the film’s quieter moments, and his (sometimes torturously) long “takes” indicate a young filmmaker who wants to focus more on character than on brutality....
...and then the other shoe drops. At several points in Kidnapped, the violence becomes so oppressively ugly that it makes the built-up tension deflate like a skewered balloon. It’s as if the production team didn’t trust their film to work as a simple but effective thriller, so they ramped up the horror dial to eleven in an effort to have it both ways. It rarely works.
To expound upon my bigger gripes about Kidnapped would be to run through a checklist of Act III, and since I’d never do that, I’ll simply call the film a dark but compelling experiment that sort of runs off the rails towards the final scenes, almost as if Vigas knew he had to end the tension somehow, but wasn’t sure how to do it. And while it’s always cool to see a horror film that’s more than willing to deliver some truly nasty surprises, Kidnapped sometimes goes for the blunt, simple shock. If the rest of the film were not so refined and quietly compelling, its schizophrenic detours probably wouldn’t bother me as much.