Within the cinematic landscape, the subversion of kidnappers is a well-worn trope. This does not simply mean that the victim successfully escapes, as that is just a kidnapping story with a happy ending. This is specifically about ways in which the tables are turned on the criminals in some manner. In the last 25 years alone there was Ransom in which a man announces a ransom on the people holding his family hostage. Excess Baggage is probably best left forgotten, but it does center around a fake kidnapping which turns real. The underrated gem The Disappearance Of Alice Creed is a con game being played out during a kidnapping. Of course, there is the 1994 Christmas classic The Ref, in which a burglar takes a bickering family hostage during Christmas. Bishrel Mashbat’s feature-length debut, In The Land Of Lost Angels, exists in this same territory. So, the question then is, does it stand out?
“…they decide to kidnap Scott, the son of wealthy Mr. Sanders…”
Ankhaa (Erdenemunkh Tumursukh) and Orgil (Iveel Mashbat), two Mongolian-Americans, are at their wit’s end. See, they need money, fast, to save their family home. With few avenues available to them and desperately wanting to ensure a bright future for their loved ones, they resort to illegal activities. In their case, they decide to kidnap Scott (Mike Cali), the son of wealthy Mr. Sanders (Robert Corsini). However, once Scott is tied up and blindfolded in the apartment, things don’t go as planned. Mr. Sanders is unresponsive, and Scott continually offers them a deal for instant cash, though less than the kidnappers are asking from his father. Do Ankhaa and Orgil get the money and help their family? If the payment is not obtained, can they live with their plan of action?
In the Land Of Lost Angels is primarily told through an observational viewpoint, so there’s an air of detachment to the whole affair. Odd though it might sound, it actually helps the story along, as opposed to hindering it; to a point at least. Ankhaa and Orgil are invested only insomuch as needing fast cash. They aren’t thrilled with the idea of kidnapping but are left with no other choice. The direction reinforces this mood throughout the film.
“…an observational viewpoint, so there’s an air of detachment to the whole affair.”
However, as the story moves along and one of the characters has a change of heart (sort of; no spoilers, so I am not saying who), the film never reaches the intimacy that is supposedly felt by that point. However, thanks to strong characterizations and sharp, realistic dialogue the movie overcome this issue through other means. In a scene of bargaining, Scott has to use the commode and convinces his captors to untie his hands, and he won’t try to escape. The back and forth in this negotiation is both humorous and fraught with tension.
With only four significant roles (and a handful of minor ones), the chemistry amongst the actors is of the utmost importance. Happily, they all deliver brilliantly. In a shockingly funny scene, Ankhaa and Orgil go to buy weapons from Dion (Saint Robinson). Orgil questions Ankhaa on just who they are meeting and Orgil keeps shutting him down. Then when Dion gets there, he asks Akhaa who is the guy he’s with. The three actors play it perfectly without becoming annoying and still bring dramatic weight when called for.
In The Land Of Lost Angels is well written and features excellent acting from all involved. The black and white cinematography is gorgeous, and the intentionally distant directing mostly works.
In The Land Of Lost Angels (2019) Directed by Bishrel Mashbat. Written by Bishrel Mashbat. Starring Iveel Mashabat, Erdenemunkh Tumursukh, Mike Cali, Robert Corsini, Saint Robinson. In the Land of Lost Angels screened at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
8 out of 10 Gummi Bears