Phoenix, Arizona. A group of kidnap victims are taken in a house like many others. There they are kept captive, beaten, and forced to contact family and friends for their ransom. Part of the group is an expecting couple who are split up as they keep the men and women separately. The father-to-be does everything he can to protect his wife and unborn child.
Writer/director Felipe Rodriguez takes a lesser known fact about Phoenix, Arizona, that it has an estimated 1000 houses that are used in the kidnapping, keeping, and trade of illegal immigrants. Of course, this is something that is hard to prove, but fitting with research and with some of the inspiration behind other films such as “Sicario.” In his film, Rodriguez avoids the usual cop on the case routine and shows the side of the victims and their captors. He doesn’t sugar-coat any of it; it’s rough, brutal, and violent creating a film that gets in your face as it needs to. He also builds characters that the viewers will love or hate. The plight of victims is clear; the lead couple represented shows how illegal immigrants come to the USA full of hope and dreams with very little possessions or money. They are the anchor points of the film, the two characters through which most of the emotions are built.
The couple that most of the emotional scenes revolves around are played by Michelle Arvisu and Johnathan Sousa. Both of them show the despair of their situation while showing strength of survival. Their characters come off as the strongest and the most interesting of the bunch which is partially due to how they are written but also because of their actors’ performances. The care, the love, the worry comes through the screen. Another powerful performance here is by Pedro Miguel Arce as Pedro, a man who starts off as someone who has given up and eventually finds some strength to fight. He gets a nice character arc and acts the hell out of it, without overacting.
The cinematography by Boris Mojsovski shows the desperate conditions in which the captives live while in the house, giving the cramped space a claustrophobic feel. The way he frames the characters, pushing up close in some scenes adds to the feeling of helplessness. In comparison, the scenes with the two leads before they are taken feel hopeful and free.
“Kidnap Capital” is director Felipe Rodriguez’s first writing credit and he does fantastic work. The film is touching, the despair palpable, and at the same time it’s rough and violent, giving a good idea of what it’s like for these kidnapping victims. The film is not an easy watch but an important one.
Fantasia International Film Festival ran from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016 and will be back in the summer of 2017.