Halle Berry has purposely or inadvertently created a new genre of film entirely her own. With the release of Kidnap, her latest feature, Berry continues a theme of original, grounded big screen female heroines that started with The Call and could easily continue for several more films. Neither film is necessarily a hallmark of modern entertainment, but both break the mold of most mainstream fare today with largely believable, incredibly well paced thrillers that play on our everyday fears. I would gladly watch a dozen of these films before committing to another teen fantasy adaptation that is plotted for six features, and I think (hope) most audiences would agree.
Berry stars as Karla Dyson, an average suburban mom whose child is kidnapped at the park in the middle of an otherwise normal day. Her motherly instincts kick in immediately and Karla tears out of the parking lot in pursuit of the people she believes to have her child. As they race down the highway Karla attempts to alert authorities, but before the police can come to her aide the kidnappers make a number of creative decisions that further complicate the plot. It’s not a matter of simply getting them to stop, but rather a constant pursuit that will only end when one adult or the other has stopped breathing.
Much like The Call, which found Berry serving as a veteran 911 call center employee tasked with helping a young girl escape a dangerous situation, Kidnap wastes no time getting to its story. Berry’s on screen son is kidnapped within the first ten minutes of the story and from that moment forward Knate Lee’s script rarely stops to catch its breath. This helps keep an otherwise simple story engaging, but also prevents the audience from her ever thinking too much about what exactly is happening on screen. Berry goes from normal mother figure to something that borders on superhuman with little explanation other than the obviously Taken inspired quotable found in the film’s numerous trailers, “You took the wrong kid.”
There are countless stories about mothers who find themselves pulling off great feats of strength or skill in moments where their children’s lives are believed to be in danger, and this seems to be the basis for every beat of Kidnap. No one else, be them onlookers or authority figures, knows how to do a single helpful thing. Dozens must witness Berry’s initial encounter with kidnappers, but no one reports it. She later pauses her pursuit to enter a police station and seek assistance, but again no one can do anything beneficial. Worse yet, Berry’s pursuit leaves numerous innocent victims in its wake that are rarely addressed, and because the film never takes time to considers the damage caused by her actions the story is robbed of the same grounded reality it’s fighting so hard to earn.
Still, there is something almost primal about the thrill you feel when a parent is able to enact vengeance upon those who wish to harm their children. Like nazis or zombies, people who hurt kids are always considered fair game when it comes to extreme violence on screen. You don’t even have to justify why the villains are doing the bad things they’re doing, which is a good thing because Kidnap never feels the need to do so. These people are bad because they kidnap kids. What they do with them, why they do it, and how long it has been happening is not really addressed, likely because Lee and producer hope our imaginations will draw more horrific conclusions than their descriptions ever could. Maybe they’re right.
It is worth noting that anyone who has viewed the promotional materials for Kidnap has unknowingly or perhaps knowingly seen the final moments of the film. A chase movie like this, where the entire story arc revolves around a pursuit, is always better when viewed for the first time with as little information about the plot as possible. Those who have been witnessing the promotional campaign for Kidnap play out since August 2016 have already been shown every major plot point and action sequence, likely numerous times. If that sounds like an experience that applies you then I suggest waiting for Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon to add Kidnap to their streaming library unless you feel the need to see this one in theaters. There’s nothing here that justifies leaving your house.