Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Strange Films I've Seen: KIDNAPPED

Miguel Ángel Vivas' Secuestrados (Kidnapped) was one of several gems that slipped by me at 2010 Fantastic Fest. Chalk it up to scheduling issues on my part: too many dope films and not enough time in the day or night to see 'em all. I regrettably chose something else over Kidnapped without realizing at the time what I was doing. Then I began to hear the percolating buzz from audience members post-screening, amped way beyond the hysteria over secret film #1 I Saw The Devil or practically anything else at the fest. Then came the awards ceremony and Vivas walked away with a best director award AND best picture for Kidnapped, and I was like "there is something big here". I recently blogged about the 10 most disturbing films I've seen, a list tipped heavily in the realm of Fantastic Fest, and in retrospect Kidnapped totally would be on that list. Not as an honorable mention but one of the ten (I'm not sure the placement, but it's a shocker). I haven't seen Vivas' debut feature-length Reflections (from nearly 10 years ago) and Kidnapped is only his second feature. But hell, he's achieved something great here. If you gauge great movies on an experience that lingers with you long afterward, the images burned into your retinas, where you've got to talk it out with a loved one to make sense of it — that's all here. But Kidnapped doesn't deliquesce so easily, even talking about it, getting drunk, watching some lighthearted flick like Finding Nemo won't totally wipe it from your consciousness. When I write that this is a bone-deep disturbing film, as visceral a home-invasion nightmare as I've ever seen — and considering my 10 shocking films list — you had best believe it.

Unease begins the experience. A close-up of a bloodied plastic bag wrapped haphazardly over a besuited man's head. He lies in the grass, the camera facing him, and despite the insistent buzzing of flies we see the man's shoulders rising and falling, ever so slightly. It's not a mistake of the actor: this guy's alive. Vivas lets us think about the consequences of an apparently badly beaten man with a bag wrapped around his head REMAINING alive for about thirty seconds, when he sharply gasps — jump scene! — begins furiously breathing, rouses himself and, rising shakily to his feet, ambles through a wood and into traffic. A driver comes to his aid, pulling the bag from his head, and the man barks for a phone and stammers the number. Phone to his ear, he gets his daughter on the other line and orders her in hurried breaths to not open the door for anyone, stay in the house. Her monotone response — we can totally picture it, what's going on at home — is "they're already inside. They shot mom." Annnnnd title screen: Secuestrados. We never see that family again.

* Note, too: that whole opening five+ minutes is done in one take. Vivas structures this grueling picture off 12 lengthy, reeling takes, the camera either stationary and picking up the action passively, or roaming restlessly, following characters' movements. There are a few split-screens for extra effect — mirroring one character's thoughts/fears vs. reality on the other side — but still 12 takes in total. And we've got like 80 minutes left and just 11 takes. You bet this is going to be a punishing ride. The family we do spend time with is clearly a rich one, a well-off Spanish dad, mom and 18-year-old daughter moving into their gated community abode, big-ass pool and everything. The shot begins with dad Jaime (Fernando Cayo) getting out of his car, talking to movers and walking through the spacious new house to find his wife Marta (Manuela Velles), the camera floating behind him all the while. I strained my short-term memory for a few beats, thinking: "is this the same guy from the intro?" Jaime complains about a toothache, owns a slew of golf clubs, stacks documents (and money?) in a safe. Marta fusses over a dinner for the three of them, sparring with daughter Isabel (Ana Wagener), who resents moving "all the way out here" (in moneysville suburban, apparently) and plans to go out tonight no matter what. She chit-chats a bit with one of the younger movers who's got a cut on his hand. That's another scene. Next, Isa dresses for her party, sparring again with mom. Jaime dresses from his shower, talks it out with his wife, she wonders why he won't back her up and CRASH!!! The window in their bedroom shatters and a black-masked, black-clad guy is coming through it and punches dad in the face. Isa hears the sounds, screams, takes off for the front door and two more black-masked, black-clad guys are there. One grabs her, she fights him, and he throws her into this cornice on the wall — an eye-wincing realistic collision — and summarily knocks her out. Jamie, isa and Marta collect on the sofa, he holding a rag to his nose, Isa (completely stunned, both from the concussion and the sped-up events around her) a rag to her head. One intruder sits across from them, cross-legged, while the others stalk behind the sofa. Lead intruder speaks some language not translated in subtitles and then switches to Spanish, gruffly ordering them to write down their credit card numbers and hand over their mobile phones. Dad protests a bit and gets slapped around, then capitulates and does as told. Lead intruder commands Jaime to take a ride with him to the ATM machine, leaving Marta and Isa with the other two wolves. Another scene.

Now separated, the action seems to speed up somehow, relentless as Jaime's imagination runs away with him (what's happening at home to his wife and daughter?) and as the two wolves at home get restless. Jaime attempts to keep a straight face in the rainy nighttime streets with the chillingly stoic intruder, all the while pleading for his wife and daughter to remain unharmed. But they're in trouble, esp. w/ the bearish masked-guy squeezed between them on the sofa, in an unflinching several minutes of distressing hilarity, as he channel-surfs and snorts coke while Isa (to his right) and Marta (to his left) remain gagged. His piercing gaze through the mask's eye-holes and his strained voice signify his barely reeled-in mania: he wants to rape Isa, he wants to kill somebody, he's just waiting for the OK to get unhinged. The other masked-guy is relatively nice in comparison, seemingly wanting the episode to be over with so they can get out of there. A sequence of fractured events ignite the momentary calm like a powder-keg and Vivas launches off: running, screaming, beating — Jaime senses this after he's kept out past midnight to make two separate ATM withdrawals, and as he drives back home and the adrenaline ruptures into the red-zone at home, with first bloodshed, we get a split-screen. A real-time, tension-building split-screen leading to a most visceral climax of extreme violence. I caution you to not take a breath here, like I did, because just when you naively think Vivas is satisfied and done it all, the brittle tension of what just ensued lashes back in more unsparing, gut-punching brutality until the screen goes black.