The Disappearance of Alice Creed Review
Opening with a sequence of shots showing two men in silent labour, padding walls, putting locks on doors, preparing a bed, covering the interior of the back of a van, laying out their tools and going about the job in hand, there’s a ruthless efficiency to the opening of The Disappearance of Alice Creed that suggests that this is a film that means business. That business is evidently, as the title indicates (although the opening titles themselves are actually considerably delayed for reasons that become clear later), the preparation of a room to hold the young woman they are planning to abduct until her rich father pays a ransom of two million pounds.
Such is the efficiency of the operation that nothing of the mechanics of the abduction needs to be shown other than the actual rough bundling of a young woman who we presume is Alice into the back of the van, the young woman writhing in pain and fear as she is subsequently deposited on the bed, gagged and chained securely to the bedposts. Stripped of every article of her clothing, her face is only revealed from underneath the sack over her head long enough for her masked captors to take photographs of a sufficiently disturbing nature that will ensure that those paying the ransom take them very seriously indeed.
The viewer, watching this brutal sequence of events, near silent but for the screams of the young woman, is consequently also somewhat inclined to take The Disappearance of Alice Creed very seriously indeed – but as it becomes evident that the majority of the film is going to take place almost entirely within the three small rooms of the apartment with a cast of only three people, it would seem that writer and director J. Blakeson clearly has a challenge on his hands to hold the viewer in that state of tension for the full 100 minutes of the film. Whether that’s done credibly is a matter for the individual viewer, but there’s no question that in terms of pacing, character development, attention to detail and the unpredictability of subsequent events (providing you know little enough before you go into the film, and this review will endeavour to remain spoiler free on that account), Blakeson keeps the viewer gripped right through to the cleverly placed end credits.
Difficult though it undoubtedly is to maintain enough developments between three people in a room, none of it is going to convince without three strong actors who are able to make it work, and there at least, half the battle is won. Eddie Marsan wonderfully draws on the contradictory elements of Vic, showing that he is more than just a vicious thug, but that there are more complex motivations to his committing this dangerous criminal act, while Martin Compston is well suited to being the flaky element of Danny, who could put the whole operation into jeopardy. Gemma Arterton bravely takes on a role that pushes her to the limit, and if the viewer isn’t sure where their sympathy lies in regards to this posh girl with the rich daddy, these are flaws – much as they are with Vic and Danny – that allow the characters to be better explored and exploited for the balance of power and the shifting placement of sympathies that develops between this unusual triangle of characters.
To say any more about the film would only spoil the enjoyment of seeing it all fall into place, but what is more of a surprise is that this low-budget independent British film, a debut feature, shot entirely on the Isle of Man and ostensibly within the crime genre, has received little of the hype and build-up that is often given to rather more compromised British films that in reality disappointingly turn out to have nothing new to offer. The Disappearance of Alice Creed is indeed just a crime film, but it’s an exceptionally good one, where thought has gone into the characterisation and the scripting, and it’s one that, even within its limited means, shows a great deal of ambition and talent.