Despite the horror crowd being notoriously fickle, their beloved genre is easily swayed by recurrent trends. A return to the raw aesthetic and back-to-basics values of Seventies exploitation has seen the home invasion thriller go through something of a renaissance recently; Funny Games and its twin remake turned on their audience, The Strangers was utterly unapologetic in its lack of reason, while the upcoming Straw Dogs remake is apparently just as provocative and conflicting as Peckinpah's original. Superficially similar to the surprisingly effective Mother's Day remake, Kidnapped is a lethal little stab at a well-worn template, director Miguel Angel Vivas distinguishing himself through sheer technical audacity and throat-choking suspense.

Well-to-do Jaime and his pampered wife Marta are moving into their new luxury home, looking forward to a cosy family meal on their first night. Spoilt teenager Isa has other ideas however, itching to get to a nearby party; God forbid she should have to spend a night in the house with her parents for company. These problems are about to pale into insignificance with the arrival of three uninvited Eastern European crooks, bent on fleecing their hostages for as much money as possible. The family's resolve as well as the invaders' obvious experience and efficiency are tested by unforeseen circumstances, with the violence escalating as both sides begin to fray.

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Filmed in excruciatingly long takes that cleverly accentuate the exponential loss of control, Kidnapped dwells upon the victims' mounting panic in almost pornographic fashion; for a good chunk of the film it seems like their weeping and whimpering is about all the film has to offer. The sheer unrelenting intensity of their predicament will be too much for some sensitive viewers, despite the kidnappers keeping their heads for most of the duration and dealing with the siege as strictly a matter of business. As the power balance in the group becomes clearer, fear mounts as to what might happen once it's challenged through the necessity for them to split up. It's a contrived and cliched plot development (and there will be more to come), with characters who amount to obvious archetypes - the even-handed leader, the loose cannon, the weak moralist - but Vivas tightens his grip on the viewer by exploiting what we do and don't see.

As in impressive real-time hoodie horror Cherry Tree Lane, much of the potentially gratuitous violence takes place out of sight but within earshot, our imagination filling in the gaps and stimulated by the horrified reactions of the helpless bystanders. The quality of the acting hammers the suffering home, while the increasingly frantic and fleet-footed camerawork makes it ever harder to catch a breath. Vivas smoothly switches to split-screen for lengthy periods, which initially proves a little indulgent and overwhelming, but soon draws the viewer into the situation even more by emphasising how each half of the action is going to have consequences for the oblivious participants on the other side. This technique eventually comes literally together to offer a brief moment of respite, but Vivas isn't letting his audience off the hook that easily. Because he's managed to hold back on in-your-face violence for the majority of the film, the director just about induces blunt force trauma when he does finally unleash it in the final reel. Several times it catches the viewer completely off-guard, coming from unexpected places and hitting harder than pretty much anything of this ilk usually dares. The ending of the film will knock you on your ass and kick you when you're down in a way that some will find cheap and insulting, but Vivas retains integrity by unpretentiously refusing to offer any reasonable explanation for the despicable activity on display other than the lure of cold, hard money.

There's no subtext, no ambiguity, no pandering to expectations of happy endings; Kidnapped is deadly serious and justifies itself just by being so bloody effective. The undeniable technical bravado papers over the derivative plot, and excellent acting keeps you completely involved with the characters' dilemma (just avoid the dire English dub). Its unrelenting nature and superficial pointlessness means the film definitely isn't for everyone, but if you're up for the challenge, Kidnapped serves up a taut 85 minutes of the most suspenseful cinema imaginable.

Reviewed on: 20 Sep 2011
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Criminals subject a family to a night of terror.
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Director: Miguel Ángel Vivas

Writer: Javier García, Miguel Ángel Vivas

Starring: Guillermo Barrientos, Dritan Biba, Fernando Cayo, César Díaz, Martijn Kuiper, Manuela Vellés, Ana Wagener, Xoel Yáñez

Year: 2010

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Spain, France


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If you like this, try:

Cherry Tree Lane
Funny Games