Kidnapping Inc. blends farce, politics and stark Haitian reality: Sundance Film Festival Review

Though its working with the elements of a dark comedy, a political thriller and topical social commentary, Bruno Mourral‘s Kidnapping Inc. manages to navigate its multiple themes and transition quite successfully from its farcical opening to its more stirring, sobering close.

Set in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince (the film utilising both the Creole and French language throughout), Kidnapping Inc. centres around Doc (Jasmuel Andri) and Zoe (Rolapthon Mercure), two kidnappers for hire who have abducted Benjamin “Ti Ben” Perralt Jr. (Patrick Joseph), the son of senator and presidential candidate Benjamin Perralt (Ashley Laraque).  There’s a considerable ransom and shadier heads-of who are placing pressure on Doc and Zoe to deliver on schedule, so it naturally is a thorn in the duo’s side when things don’t entirely go to plan and Ti Ben is, shall we say, undeliverable.

To rectify their blunder, Doc and Zoe make a series of poor, comedic decisions, and it initially feels as if the film will predominantly focus on the two as they try to squirm their way out of each baffling move.  With abduction being an unfortunate common reality for the people of Haiti, the script (co-written by Mourral, Andri and Gilbert Mirambeau Jr.) weaves in that fear through the frantic actions of Audrey (Anabel Lopez), Ti Ben’s wife who, despite not being entirely faithful to her husband, is understandably shaken when hearing of his kidnapping and springs to immediate action to garner the funds necessary for his release.

Furthered into the action are then Patrick (also played by Joseph) and his pregnant wife Laura (Gessica Généus), a couple on their way out of the country ahead of their impending parenthood.  Patrick bearing a striking resemblance to Ti Ben gives Doc and Zoe another bizarre idea, but it only continues their desperate spiral to save their own tails in a situation that will have violent repercussions in a city littered with brutality.  There’s still a sense of manic comedy present, especially as Laura tries to negotiate with Doc and Zoe about her husband’s placement in their plan, but it’s around this time that we start to see a true tonal shift in the way in which Morral presents his story.

There’s a hectic temperament to the pacing, but it ultimately helps the viewer be immersed in the tension that so easily unfolds.  The increase of gang violence, murder and kidnappings in Haiti is a tragic statistic, and the taut atmosphere we experience on screen feels so authentic that the line between fact and fiction feels a little too blurred; and the fact that three of the film’s crew members were victims of a kidnapping during production is an irony that is not lost.  The discomfort we feel when watching feels deliberate on the half of DP Martin Levent, as each gritty corner and heat-drenched moment is amplified to drive home the story’s lack of safety, but offsetting that is a sense of vibrancy and beauty that the city can’t stifle in spite of its violent personality.

A more emotional journey than I suspect many will be prepared for, Kidnapping Inc. may not land for audiences expecting something cohesive, but its Pulp Fiction-meets-City of God-like mix of dark humour and stark reality make for an intriguing cinema experience.  It holds up a mirror to the atrocities still taking place in the world, and though doing so through a story bathed in certain comedic elements helps soften the blows, it doesn’t shy away from detailing the acts of barbarity that are, unjustly, still a facet of everyday life.

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Kidnapping Inc. is playing as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, taking place in-person (and select virtually) between January 18th and 28th, 2024,  For more information head to the official Sundance page.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.