Editor, Asia; Hong Kong, China (@Marshy00)
[Playing tonight on FrightFest's Discovery Screen, here's another chance to check out my earlier review.]

The current state of genre cinema coming out of Spain right now has never looked healthier. Since REC led the way in 2007, we've seen a series of stylish and memorable films including TIMECRIMES, CELL 211, REC 2, THE ORPHANAGE, JULIA'S EYES, THE LAST CIRCUS, AGNOSIA and now Miguel Angel Vivas' frenetic and brutal home invasion thriller KIDNAPPED. The set-up is nothing particularly new, a family of three moves into its new home only to have their idyllic nest besieged by a trio of particularly nasty masked assailants. What makes KIDNAPPED stand out, and by golly this is a film that you wont forget in a hurry, is how Vivas introduces his characters, his creative staging of the unfolding horror and how time and again he goes that one step further than audiences have come to expect, with enduringly shocking results.

In a wonderfully conceived opening, the audience is shown how these villains operate, without them ever appearing onscreen, as we stumble upon the aftermath of a previous attack. A man lies bound on the ground, a plastic bag on his head. After an impossibly long pause he suddenly gasps for breath, before staggering blindly into the path of an oncoming car. He is knocked down but the driver tears off his bag and helps him call home, only for us all to learn that his attackers have already reached his family and his wife has been seriously injured. This opening prelude beautifully hints at the carnage, violence and suffering that our heroes, and by extension we, are to be subjected to in the scenes that follow.

KIDNAPPED quickly and efficiently introduces Jaime (Fernando Cayo), his wife Marta (Ana Wagener) and their 18-year-old daughter Isa (Manuela Velles), who her father admits is at a "difficult age". We are instantly reminded of the Bowdens of CAPE FEAR and how their precocious young daughter was targeted by Max Cady's misogynistic tormentor. The family is in the process of moving into their rather impressive new home and a parental dispute is in progress over whether or not Isa is allowed to go out for the night or not. The great irony of watching the parents jostle for power within the family unit will soon become evident, as all power is torn from them in the most extreme way possible. The pawn over which they struggle - their daughter - proves to be the ultimate spoil of war for the kidnappers too, albeit now on a more primal level.

If the film has a weakness it is its villains. As brutal, savage and genuinely intimidating as they are, the trio of hoodlums fall squarely into stock caricatured roles, be it the mature, cool-headed leader (Dritan Biba) whose soft speech betrays an unflinching resolve; the rampaging, sadistic loose cannon (Martijn Kuiper) who goes off the rails the moment his boss steps out of the building or the cautious youngster (Guillermo Barrientos) whose innocent feelings for Isa may or may not make him rethink his decisions. While their actions are often shocking, they are never surprising and play their parts exactly as one would expect.

On the other hand, the film's crowning technical achievement is its use of long takes to pull the audience into the grim reality of the situation. The entire film, which runs a lean 85 minutes, consists of just 12 shots in total, which goes a long way to heightening the tension and giving the action an immediacy that makes the moments of violence all the more shocking. And yes, this is most certainly a violent film. Characters are shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, raped, suffocated and strangled. Bones are broken, throats are slit and it may very well prove too much for some audience members to bear. However, those with the stomach for it should be suitably impressed.

Perhaps KIDNAPPED lacks the wit or nuance of Michael Haneke's FUNNY GAMES, the gender politics of STRAW DOGS and certainly doesn't attempt much in the way of subtext beyond suggesting all Albanians are murderous psychopaths, but as a stripped down exercise in ballsy exploitation it delivers a swift succession of punches to the gut that will leave you breathless. Add to this its impressive technical execution (if you'll forgive the pun) and intense performances and KIDNAPPED deserves to rank very highly among home invasion thrillers of both past and present.
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