Directed by: Luis Prieto
Run time: 82 minutes
The Lowdown: Halle Berry won an Oscar in 2002 for her role in Monster’s Ball, and her career trajectory since has been one crazy ride through various genres, including superhero/comic book capers (Catwoman, multiple X-Men movies), horror (Gothika), science-fiction (Cloud Atlas, Extant) and thrillers (Perfect Stranger, Dark Tide).
But it’s her relentless drive in action-thrillers like The Call (where Berry played a 9-1-1 operator determined to help find a young woman trapped by a killer from her own past) and the newly-released Kidnap that present a confounding portrait of a truly good African-American actress who, at age 51, is now having to help produce the films that she stars in.
Kidnap is pure drive-in-movie genre goodness. It’s the kind of movie that Roger Corman might have produced in the 1970s or early ‘80s with a lesser-known actress in the lead role.
Berry plays Karla Dyson, a working single mother in Louisiana whose job at a local diner is barely paying the bills. After leaving work from a double shift, she takes her son David to a spacious public park. That’s when she gets a phone call from her attorney, and she tells David to stay put while she walks away to take the call.
Guess what happens? David gets snatched up by Margo, a thick and mean-spirited Bayou woman, who passes the boy along to her bearded backwoods beau Terry (Lew Temple). Before they can speed out of the parking lot, Karla is in hot pursuit, literally throwing herself at their car to try and stop them from taking her son.
The rest of Kidnap plays exactly as you might expect with a series of near-miss-encounters where Karla either does something crazy to slow down her son’s kidnappers, or they threaten to kill the boy if she doesn’t give up the chase. It all culminates on a rural property with the requisite creepy barn that holds even more secrets.
Director Luis Prieto keeps the action moving, barely letting off the gas long enough for poor Karla to catch her breath between surviving ridiculously destructive car crashes that would mortally wound a non-Oscar winner and holding her own against a not-so-sly, late-to-the-party redneck child kidnapper who tries to pretend to be a concerned neighbor.
Kidnap would be a discount-bin-worthy title for any actress in the lead role, but here’s the weird thing about this and The Call – Berry somehow makes this reheated brand of pulp culture immensely watchable.
You can tell she’s really, really trying to make a good movie, or at least an entertaining one, and in that category, at least, she mostly succeeds. Kidnap is fitfully entertaining, if only because you want to see if what happens next is exactly what you think will happen next.
It makes no sense why an actress of Berry’s caliber, much less her receipt of that solid gold statue, is having to settle for a B-grade popcorn film like Kidnap. But I’m betting that if she keeps mining this channel of exploitation cinema, she’s going to eventually make a really great one.
Here’s to hoping, at least.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Sure.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Some violence.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – It’s Halle versus a bunch of redneck child kidnappers.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Down: Collector’s Edition (Blue Underground, 111 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Thanks to Blue Underground, the films of genre director Dick Maas can now be appreciated by a new generation, and collected by the aging cinephiles who remember when they were originally released.
Down, which was released in 2001 as The Shaft, and starred a then-little-known actress named Naomi Watts (just before she broke big in The Ring and Mulholland Drive), is actually a remake of a movie that Maas first made in 1983.
It’s also a relentlessly compelling horror flick about a possessed elevator shaft.
Yes, you read that right.
In Maas’ hands (he also wrote the screenplay), this is the elevator equivalent of Jaws, with numerous ominous shots of elevator doors opening and closing, sometimes revealing a pitch-black chasm to the bottom of the shaft.
There’s a corrupt building owner (Edward Herrmann) who wants the elevators kept running regardless of the increasing number of accidents and tenant deaths. There’s a likeable elevator repairman (genre veteran James Marshall) who slowly figures out that something wicked and non-human may be the cause of the multiple malfunctions. There’s Ron Perlman and Dan Hedaya and Michael Ironside – because, well, they’re just cool dudes that anybody would want to have in their movie. And there’s Watts playing Jennifer Evans, the single worst depiction of a news journalist ever put on screen. She lies, she manipulates, she writes stories based on quotes she took when her source didn’t know he was on-the-record.
Down is a hoot, a genuine throw-back to the kind of crazy supernatural/possessed films that used to get churned out. And Blue Underground, which also recently released Maas’ Amsterdamned, also put out a high-definition collector’s edition of The Lift, the original 1983 Dutch film, also written and directed by Maas.
The Lift: Collector’s Edition
The Voice of the Moon
Age of Kill
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Wichita (Candy Factory Films, 85 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Wichita, the feature debut from Justyn Ah Chong and Matthew D. Ward (who also wrote the screenplay), is the kind of hybrid found-footage horror that seems all the rage of late.
It focuses as much on the characters in front of the camera (in this case, the writers and voice actors of a children’s show that’s close to being canceled) as the various cameras and other high-tech recording devices utilized by Jeb (Trevor Peterson), the creator of the children’s show, to fuel his weird voyeur fetish.
Jeb has assembled his team at a remote estate for a month-long retreat to script the latest season of his show. If he doesn’t produce 30 scripts in 30 days, he’s going to get dropped by his network.
The only problem is Jeb seems to have no desire to work. He just wants to document the private moments of the team, and spy on Raven, one of the writers who also happens to be a stone fox.
Things go from awkward to really bad to bloody.
It’s easy to see what Chong and Ward for shooting for here, but there’s just not enough set-up or character development to fully fuel Jeb’s quick spiral into madness, or to give viewers anything sturdy enough to hold onto.
It’s not that we don’t like the characters, we just never really get to know them. So when they start getting picked off one by one, our attachment is too low to generate much angst or tension.
Wichita is not as good as it could have been, nor is it as bad as many higher-budget, Hollywood studio horror efforts. If anything, it's a first toe in the water for two new voices in genre cinema, and hopefully what they come up with next will be truly terrifying.