For some reason I am inherently drawn to movies that people say are ‘brutal’. Not the ones that are just gore for the sake of gore because that was done in the ‘80’s and then more realistically in the ‘90’s. I mean the movies that supposed screw with your head because they are so dark and gruesome. Films that take you to a place you don’t want to be. For me it’s looking into the darkness, or a mimic of it, and seeing if I can take what I see. And sometimes it’s good to be shocked, to be outraged because it reminds you where your line is with art and films, and why you feel that way. So this is what lead me to watch Kidnapped, which I found streaming on Netflix. I had read about how brutal it was and was curious. So here we go.
Kidnapped is the story of an upper middle class family in what I can only assume is Spain (Portugal maybe) as they settle into a new house. While getting adjusted they are going to celebrate their new home but struggle with convincing their daughter to stay in for the night. As they go through their squabbles their lives are torn apart by the intrusion of three masked men who break into their home to rob them. As the night goes on the terror rises because it seems that it isn’t just money these men want and suddenly the teenage daughter becomes the focus of one of the men. It is left to the family to save themselves, if they can, because there is no help coming, and hope is running short.
Here’s the thing, if you have seen one home invasion/home under siege movie in the last twenty + years you have just about seen them all. Last House set the template and Straw Dogs set the bar. Outside of that the modern ones are all pretty much the same – dumb family, cute daughter/woman, an over-brave/stupid husband (take your pick because they are either or with no real arc from one to the other), and drug addicted sadists as invaders that usually have rape in mind. Sure, sure, there are some that are different (The Strangers came close to being different and good and scary but it was so DUMB that it hurt me inside) but the template is set and that is it. Sometimes the victims survive, sometimes not, but in the end it’s an examination of suburban terrors. And it’s interesting, and it has its power but it is one of those subgenres that has never evolved. The movies have gotten nastier, meaner, but aren’t really different. Enter Kidnapped, which trades new ideas and themes for interesting (almost daring) direction and a reality that wavers at the end.
The film is done in very few shots so that you have a sense of the urgency and terror of the family but this is broken up, as the tension, when the camera switches from one perspective to the other – from mother and daughter held captive by two of the men at the home to the father out with the third getting money from ATMs. Had the film kept the viewer as in the dark as the family is it would have made the film that much more powerful and haunting as our minds ran out the rope of what could be happening that we are not seeing. There are some interesting turns in the film but like most of the others the family is too bold at the worst times and too cowardly at the worst times and it takes you out of the film as you want to scream out at them for being so stupid. What killed me though was a turn at the end that seemed just ridiculous for what it had established. This was a matter of choosing brutality over sense and it’s a shame. I like darkness as much as the next person but in some cases enough is enough.
And there’s the rub, the persistence of so many movies and filmmakers to cling to this brutality over story. In a movie like Serbian Film it has poignancy and adds to the heartbreak of the story, here though you never know the characters, never care for them so it plays like a bull fight where it is just violence for the sake and art of violence. A red play on a barren stage. Without the investment it means nothing. In the end the intention of the film is like so many other modern films and it clings to a black nihilism and fatalism that seems to say that these intruders are like Lovecraft’s Old Ones, gods that care not for us but to use and destroy us as they will or ignore us if they care to. And to a degree that is violence, but movies like this seem to want us to cower in fear from The Other that can invade and destroy our lives and not fight when we have no choice.
This is a well made, horribly dubbed film that will play to the crowd that is interested in this sort of fare. It is brutal, it is dark, and it gets very,very nasty. For me it all amounted to nothing. In a movie like Irreversible there is persistent darkness but the most horrifying scene in the film is overshadowed by a subtle, quiet, beautiful scene later on that, because of what we know, serves to press the point of why that earlier attack was made even more horrible. That is the power of films like this. Not to push our nose in excrement to prove a morbid point.
So sure, this is brutal and grim and all of that but in the end we’ve seen it before. Too many times. And I am ready for something different. I am hoping the next rash of home invasion films gives me that.
6 out of 10
my books – MEEP