The Pleasures (and Surprising Significance) of Kidnap and Halle Berry’s B-Movie Canon

Inspired by Berry's latest film, actress Tipper Newton (The Mindy Project) delves into the thrillers of the Oscar-winning star.

“I need a change of underwear!” the man next to me said after an especially suspenseful part in Halle Berry’s new movie, Kidnap.

Ever since 2013’s The Call, I’d been “on hold,” waiting for Berry’s next foray into the world of thrillers, until Kidnap answered. You see, The Call, which stars Berry, was one of my favorite movies that year. It’s a smart suspense film with resourceful characters triumphing over car trunks, torture basements, and their own guilt. The movie’s fast pace kept me engaged the entire time and I loved how it straddled the line between thriller and horror in its last act. Berry spends most of the film behind her 9-1-1 operator’s desk. How do you make sitting behind a desk so riveting? I dunno, but Berry’s got it figured out!

When I found out about Kidnap, I lost it! It had all the appeal of The Call but this time Berry isn’t behind a desk – she’s behind the wheel! But due to problems with the film’s initial distributor, Kidnap’s release date kept getting pushed back.
So as I waited, I looked over Berry’s career. Turns out she’s got a handful of these genre thrillers in her back catalogue. I decided that if I had to wait for Kidnap, I was gonna wait for Kidnap in style – by having a Berry thrillerthon.

I also wondered, why is it so often actors such as Berry get a bad rap for taking on these types of movies? Those of us who love genre films approach them with the same high regard one might look at an Oscar contender. When I tell people that The Call is a great B-movie, do they believe me? Does calling it a B-movie make it any less of a movie? And isn’t it unfair to judge someone’s career choices without actually watching these movies to understand why they made these choices to begin with?

Before Kidnap, Berry had made five thrillers that I feel belong in the same family. And what unites them is not only the certain pulpy quality they exude but the themes that are found throughout these films.

In The Rich Man’s Wife, she marries for money, but it’s when she puts aside financial considerations that she finally stands up for herself and defeats the men who are making her life miserable. In Gothika, she’s lied to by her husband – who turns out to be a serial rapist, torturer and murder – and struggles to prove to her male co-worker that she’s not crazy, but it’s when she starts to believe the women in her life (a ghost and a mental patient!) that she’s finally able to put the pieces together and solve the real mystery of the movie. In Perfect Stranger, she goes undercover to bring down the powerful ad exec she thinks murdered her childhood friend; she says, “Powerful men protect powerful men,” and so serves justice the only way it will be done – by doing it herself. In Dark Tide, her character constantly has to shut down the men around her who assume they’re smarter and stronger than her. And, finally, in The Call, Berry’s character is fighting against a man who has repeatedly murdered young women, working together (over the phone!) with a teenager abducted by the killer.

The Rich Man’s Wife, Gothika, Perfect Stranger, Dark Tide and The Call are all thrillers that deal with the abuse of women by men. In every one of these movies, Berry’s character is lied to or bullied by men. And her characters are always struggling to push past them. Three of these films showcase a camaraderie between women, and almost all see her character successfully getting revenge. Berry has been open about dealing with abuse herself, witnessing her dad abuse her mom as a child, and Berry herself having an abusive boyfriend. She works with a domestic abuse prevention/intervention center. It’s something that is obviously extremely important to her. So it makes complete sense that these films and these characters would appeal to her. There probably aren’t enough movies out there even dealing with the issues that Berry wants to address. There are probably not enough films that give her the opportunity to play such active roles. That’s something that genre movies do provide for women, and they generally allow you to more explicitly address social and political issues.

So does Kidnap follow the pattern of these previous five Berry thrillers?

Let’s go back to Friday afternoon at the Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza 15, where I was watching Berry play Karla Dyson in Kidnap. When Karla’s little boy gets snatched, she runs to the kidnapper’s car and hangs onto it while it’s driving away. When she can’t hold on anymore, she jumps in her red minivan and continues the pursuit. Karla, whose ex-husband is trying to get full custody of their child, is not gonna let her ex or some deadbeat kidnappers take her son away. So she drives backwards on the freeway, uses the different functions of her car to take down “bad guys,” wields a shotgun, swings a mean shovel and fights under water.

Back in the theater, the woman next to me yells, “She’s a badass!” And she’s right, Berry is a badass in this movie. In real life, you’re supposed to let the cops go after the villain, but isn’t it more fun to see this working-class single mom kick their butts on the big screen? The underwear man shouts, “Tear his ass up!” during a big fight scene and “I love it!” when she prevails.

The audience erupted in applause three times during the movie, and again after it ended. Leaving the theater, one woman was already quoting Berry’s big one liner, “You took the wrong kid!” It sorta makes me wish that Berry would put all her energy into being an action star, because she’s really good at it.

So how does Kidnap relate to Berry’s other thrillers? Tonally, it’s very similar, but it’s not so much about women versus the bad guy. To me, it has to do more with being underestimated. And instead of revenge, it’s more about perseverance. It’s also about a mother’s love for her kid. And, in the end, really it’s just a fun movie.

Recently, Berry did an interview with Teen Vogue where she talked about how she thought her historic Oscar win would open more doors for her and other women of color, but that, unfortunately, 15 years later she hasn’t seen much change in Hollywood. As a result, she’s been producing more, and she wants to direct so that she can be the one to open doors for others. Watching Berry speak as herself made me think that maybe her performances are so genuine because there’s so much of her real self in there. She always commits one hundred percent. In all these movies, her characters are smart, strong and independent. They keep fighting until they win, and they always win.

Tipper Newton is an actor, filmmaker and musician living in Los Angeles. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a BA in Film/Video. She currently plays Karen on The Mindy Project and Sinnomin on the new TBS series The Guest Book. When she’s not working on that stuff, she’s playing in her power-pop band Color TV.