Miguel Ángel Vivas likes his silence. It’s clear that he likes having it, if only so as to interrupt it with the sounds of desperate gasps, of blood-curdling screams, of smashing windows and plans generally gone awry. The thriller he’s directed – Kidnapped – doesn’t have much of a traditional musical score backing its stock home-invasion plot and unrelenting state of peril, and his camera takes its time with its takes.
Vivas’ film feels like a technical exercise first and foremost, and in that regard, the craft of it all is fairly impeccable. He leers over Mom (Ana Wagener), Dad (Fernando Cayo) and Daughter (Manuela Vellés) with a cool remove as they’re held captive by, and tormented by, a trio of intruders. He uses cuts few and far between, relishing the choreography of the misery, and occasionally cheats by employing split-screens, which tend to distract from the tension of any given moment rather than doubling it.
But then it becomes apparent that Vivas isn’t interested in reinventing the genre wheel. The villains are revealed to be the Reasonable Boss, the Sympathetic Lackey and the Loose Cannon, and the obstacles that arise – unexpected houseguests, unavailable cell signals, unavoidable rape – feel terribly familiar to anyone who has already been subjected to the likes of Funny Games, or Funny Games U.S., or Ils (Them), or The Strangers, or Panic Room.
The sinister nature of survival horror has rarely been approached so sparingly and yet, for all there is to admire about the crew’s long takes and cast’s ragged performances, the initial sense of potential suspense gives way to the creeping contempt of familiarity and overwhelming air of despair. There’s no apparent subtext to the screenplay beyond the most basic notions of class strife, there’s hardly any curveball that comes as a surprise, and there never appears to be any grand purpose to the director’s unflinching outlook on the scenario; at times, Kidnapped feels viscerally brutal, but more often, it feels brutal by meticulous design.
By the time Vivas wraps the proceedings up with a sucker punch to our sympathies and an ironically upbeat ditty playing over the end credits, it becomes clear that his ruthlessly calculated plan to make us feel miserable, akin to that of his film’s masterminds, has gone off without a hitch. He likes his silence, but I suspect that he loves our frustrated sighs a bit more.
Kidnapped is currently in limited release and available through IFC On Demand, though I’m told that the latter is an unfortunately dubbed version.