Shot in just under 10 very long takes, Vivas’ Secuestrados tells the story of a wealthy family who, having just moved into their new home, are held hostage and robbed by three masked men. No harm seems intended for the victims, until one of the thieves’ psychotic personality starts to show itself, and the father of the family attempts to get help. Then all hell breaks loose.
Whereas Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (both versions) dealt far more with the psychology of the criminals and the great question of why, Vivas is far more interested in showing the act itself, the actions of the criminals and the victims and the outcomes of these actions. The complete unfathomability of the situation; the slow realization of the danger; the split section decisions that more often than not lead to disaster. While it can be hard to imagine something like this happening, Vivas is definitely aiming for realism not only in the narrative but the aesthetics. Through the use of the long takes, the film operates in near real time. Through the use of the single, handheld camera, the viewer is sitting next to the family when they beaten, driving with the father when is forced to take money from multiple ATMs, back at the house when the mother is offering herself in her daughter’s place when one of the criminals intends rape. And it barely stops to catch a breath. Which is precisely the point. It is impossible to know how to react in these situations (not that they occur often) because there is no time.
As an exercise in filmmaking, it succeeds brilliantly. And usually I have no time for such films, as they sacrifice too much of the narrative for the aesthetics. But Vivas has succeeded where others have failed; the family and the criminals were believable, and I could imagine myself doing the sane things they did (the family, that is, not the criminals), even with the disastrous results. The ending falters, though; it seems to spill over into a territory of “let’s make this as horrible as we possibly can’, which does not serve the story very well. Overall, though, Vivas has created a tense, nail-biting thriller that rarely lets its audience down.