SStarring: Max von der Groeben, Jella Haase, Clemens Schick
Director: Thomas Sieben
Running Time: 89 mins
Kidnapping Stella is a German film about a young woman who is snatched off the street and held captive in an isolated room. However, she does what she can to turn the tables on her kidnappers and escape.
An impressively contained survival thriller that doesn’t always stick to the tropes of your average kidnap story, Kidnapping Stella has all the ingredients for something a little different. However, as much as it tries to change up what can be a very formulaic premise, it settles for a plot that’s even more basic, and even more predictable.
But first off, I want to talk about the one thing about this film that works rather well, and that’s the performances. Although Kidnapping Stella doesn’t have the emotional depth and intensity nor the strong screenplay to feature any particularly strong characters, two of three main performances make a huge difference, with Jella Haase and Max von der Groeben bringing a vital energy to what could have been an entirely tedious thriller.
Their characters’ dynamic isn’t particularly interesting, and perhaps the most predictable part of the whole story, but Haase impresses as she portrays her characters – the kidnap victim – in extreme distress, but still with the ingenuity and drive to find a way to escape, something that I really enjoyed supporting throughout.
Alongside here is Max von der Groeben, who isn’t quite on Haase’s level, but at least brings a slightly different dynamic to the movie kidnapper. Not only is he a vulnerable and weak man in the face of his captive’s plans to escape, but von der Groeben brings out those insecurities in riveting fashion throughout, contrasting them with the more predictable, violent aspects of his character, and setting up what could have been a genuinely engrossing character analysis.
Unfortunately, though, despite the good work of two of the lead actors, Kidnapping Stella doesn’t really have the depth or intelligence at any point to really hammer home what could have been its most impressive ideas. So, rather than in-depth character focuses or even an exciting, no-holds-barred escape story, the film is actually really rather generic.
On the plus side, it showcases the story of a kidnap gone wrong in a self-contained context. Without the often unnecessary intrusion of a detective character or anyone on the outside, the film does have the potential to be an exhilaratingly claustrophobic thriller, and so it proves for at least the first act or so.
The film starts in fairly strong fashion, with the face-off between Haase and von der Groeben proving its highest point, but the story unfortunately takes a tack in a very generic direction, turning the exciting premise of watching a kidnap gone wrong into something that resembles a run-of-the-mill action movie, as the film changes locations after an unnecessary and predictable twist of fate.
That opening act – a contained, quiet and focused thriller in a claustrophobic environment – is what I wanted to see the whole way through, particularly if the story stayed as an intense battle of minds between the two main characters. Sadly, though, the screenplay just isn’t bright enough to stick with that the whole way through, and with the core plot twist proving a painfully predictable nail in the coffin for any hopes of something surprising, the film’s ambitions of originality backfire hugely, finishing up in a both generic and underwhelming fashion.
Overall, Kidnapping Stella was a rather disappointing watch for me. It may appear ambitious and unique at first, with a strong first act that seems to change up the typical kidnap story, but it quickly goes downhill, wasting a good premise and two strong lead performances for a predictable and basic action plot that brings the film to sluggish and dull end, and that’s why I’m giving it a 5.6.