Kidnapping Stella is well-made, but its familiarity robs it of suspense and surprise, making a recommendation difficult.
In the wordless opening scene of Kidnapping Stella, two men, one older, heavier, and hairier, the other younger, fairer and lighter, kidnap Stella (Jella Haase). Her muffled screams and moans are the only thing you hear for a while, except for the clink of handcuffs against metal bars, the snip of the scissors that remove her clothes, and the familiar snap of the digital camera the men use to photograph her. The first spoken words are demands for her father’s email address and mobile phone number.
Written and directed by Thomas Sieben, the film, which arrived on Netflix today, is admirable in its economy. It establishes kidnappers who’re efficient and organized and a victim who is terrified and at their mercy, all in the first five minutes. Then it quickly establishes dysfunction between the men, one of whom is colder and more willing, the other clearly skeptical of the plan and its potential consequences. In an entirely unsurprising development, it’s the younger, better-looking man having second thoughts who is frequently left alone and in charge of his equally good-looking victim.
If you think you know where Kidnapping Stella is going, you probably do, especially once you learn that it’s a German adaptation of the 2009 British neo-noir thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed. And it’s such a faithful remake that if you’ve seen one you’ve virtually seen the other. Revealing too much about the details would spoil both, and this is the kind of film — with a played-out, stripped-bare premise — that is contingent on certain reveals about the characters and their relationships.
In that case, you have to wonder what the point of remaking such a film is. The craft is still there. Kidnapping Stella is suspenseful, well-written and menacingly performed, and you have to imagine that anyone totally new to the material would get something out of it. But its faithfulness also smacks of creative bankruptcy. The dynamic between the kidnappers is the same. The relationship between one of the killers and Stella is the same. It begins the same and ends more or less the same. At a time when Netflix’s international content is as diverse and interesting as it ever has been, there’s nothing about Kidnapping Stella that you haven’t seen, and plenty that is worth watching in its place.