I wanted to watch this film because I was curious about the details of Ms. Kampusch's kidnapping and her life before and after. And partly also, to be perfectly honest, because of the horror of it all. I don't want to label us all as emotional and violence porn freaks for watching this, but there's a certain part of that in it, too. After all, if we all just wanted the facts, then why watch a dramatization? Why not read about it or watch a documentary?
The problem with this film is that is satisfies neither desire. I don't feel significantly more enlightened about the facts and the story, and I didn't get much drama.
So what's wrong here?
Well, with regards to Natascha's life as to before and after her captivity, this film seems uninterested in it. We are offered but a good handful of minutes dealing with her life before her abduction, and the film ends within minutes of her escape. What is focused on is her life as a hostage, and the time spent on this subject is used to play out the intended drama.
Which is the second problem of this film. As a drama, it just doesn't work. And a low budget doesn't justify the reasons for that.
One of the problems I have with it comes from the decision on shooting it in English. It seems odd, given that it is a European production set in Austria. In more capable hands such a decision is often a non-issue, but here it becomes a real problem accentuated by decisions on casting non-English speaking actors. As a Dane, I should probably be proud to see two Danes in this film, one of them in a leading role. Truth be told, I think they should have stayed at home.
It really makes me wonder what reasons are behind casting Thure Lindhart as Mr. Přiklopil when he looks nothing like Mr. Přiklopil, is not a very good actor, and has always looked like a teenage boy.
And while Amelia Pidgeon is actually excellently casted as the 10-year-old Natascha, with her striking physical resemblance to her, Antonia Campbell-Hughes is just such an astoundingly bad choice for teenage Natascha, it makes you wonder just how many people were casted as favors between friends rather than on their merits.
Antonia Campbell-Hughes, playing 14-year-old Natascha was 31 while filming. I don't know what else to say but, "why?". And why the need to cast an anorectic? We know that Ms. Kampusch was a chubby kid when abducted, and we know that Přiklopil refused her food to make her lose weight. But, the facts are that when Ms. Kampusch escaped, she was 159.7 cm tall and weighed 48 kg. That's a BMI of 18.8, just within the normal range. So why cast an anorectic 31-year-old for this part if not for shock value?
And then the real question arises: Why would you need such a walking-and-talking visual (counterfactual) dramatic shock effect when you're telling a story that is already laden with such horrendous facts?
The answer in this case is: Because you don't know how to tell a story.
Let's forget the semi-amateurish cinematography and directing that all to often manage to undo those rare occasions where the actors actually succeed in performing convincingly, in spite of having been tasked with portraying flat, single- dimensional characters. The real problem is not that 3096 Days is presented like an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, the real problem is that unlike that soap opera, it fails to portray complex and interesting characters who interact in meaningful ways in a story arc that is well-structured, well-paced and harmonious.
3096 Days presents a series of scenes that dramatize selected moments from the 8½ years of captivity. But as a whole they come out disjointed, failing to create a real sense of continuity. The film rushes and dwells at unfortunate and peculiar times, with the end result being an empathetically dysfunctional viewing experience with no real story progress and very little suspense. We all know what's going to happen, so why are we still watching? The director and script writers aren't offering any good reasons.
When you are telling a story that everyone knows already, you focus on the people, and on the details. You find the small story that tells the big story. Sadly, there is no story here. There's not a lot of people, either. What is going on around Přiklopil's house during these years is only really focused on when an outsider intervenes for some reason. For instance, the time spent (clumsily) showing us how Natascha's family are dealing with their lives without her should be counted in seconds, not minutes.
But isn't this an extremely difficult task considering the actual events and their all- too-long time span? Yes. Shouldn't I then be lenient with my critique? On the contrary, I think it is only showing disrespect to tell a story like this if you're not capable of doing it properly. Let someone else do it, then.
On the positive side, the acting is all right at times. The reconstruction of the surroundings seems to be spot-on judging from police photographs. There are a few effective scenes in the film, most notably one with the just abducted Natascha waking up to face her empty cell, which in its simplicity overwhelms you with the dread and despair she must be feeling. And last but not least, Ms. Kampusch will receive royalties whenever someone watches this film.
Bottom line: I didn't get the drama my inner empathy porn freak hoped for, and my curious freak now wants even more to watch an actual documentary on this tragedy.