A taut, emotionally intense thriller, the debut feature from writer-director J Blakeson eschews genre convention, generating tension from the sexual and psychological ties that bind captive to captors. “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” marks the feature debut for writer-director J Blakeson. The three-character thriller takes place largely in one location but never feels claustrophobic thanks to a tense atmosphere that doesn’t lets up from start to finish. The film begins with a superb opening montage depicting the detailed preparations of two men for what clearly is going to be something nefarious. They line a transit van with plastic, buy a drill and a mattress, assemble a bed in a small apartment and staple foam insulation to the walls. We soon learn, they are the older Vic (Eddie Marsan) and his young associate Danny (Martin Compston), and their plan involves the kidnapping of the titular character (Gemma Arterton), a college student and daughter of a rich businessman. Their kidnap-for-ransom scheme is purely pragmatic: Working-class stiffs, they want the money to live a “good” life. Their capture of the young woman, Alice Creed is nothing personal. It is her wealth they covet, not her.
With everything in place, they venture outside again, dragging a young woman from a posh neighborhood off the streets and into the van, which transports her, bound, gagged, and hooded, back to the apartment that now doubles as her prison. Soon, the comely woman is brought to a well-secured apartment, stripped of her clothing and photographed so that the ransom demand, delivered by computer, is that much more effective. The title character, played by Gemma Arterton, does not disappear at all, she’s stays in front the whole time. She has however been abducted by a pair of meticulous kidnappers. Mr. Marsan plays the senior partner in a pair of kidnappers, a class-conscious ex-con who’s tightly wound but perhaps not quite as ruthless as he needs to be. Vic is a little older than his partner, and clearly more experienced with this sort of thing.Completing the three-person cast are Martin Compston as the junior kidnapper and Gemma Arterton (“Quantum of Solace”) as a hostage possessed of a greater killer instinct than either of her captors. Danny (Martin Compston) follows instructions well but has yet to internalize the finer points of abducting girls and extorting ransom money from their rich fathers. Vic and Danny have planned their scheme down to the last detail. Most of the film’s violence is verbal. Vic spends most of his time spitting out orders, and when things go awry, as they always do in “perfect crime” movies, he seems in danger of splitting apart from rage.
Alice Creed is a film that is built on the relationships between its characters. Almost all of the tension is built upon interactions between the actors, dependent primarily upon emotional violence and humiliation. The locations are intentionally claustrophobic, the compositions informative and foreboding and the plot briskly paced.The drama is well acted and sufficiently tense, right up to the inevitable reversal-of-fortunes ending.
Writer-director J Blakeson, previously credited as a writer on several short films – some of which he also directed – as well as being a writer on the ill-fated Descent 2, makes his feature directorial debut here and he does it with style. His command of space and tempo is impressive, his instincts on which moments are the keys to his characters impeccable. He builds tension masterfully throughout and manages to elicit genuine surprise and shock with his twists and reveals on more than one occasion. As a writer here he has a fantastic sense of how closely to stick to the expected rules of his chosen genre to give maximum effect when he steps into new ground, as a director he shoots with precision while drawing very strong performances out of his trio of performers. And it is literally and only a trio. Blakeson has here created a film with a severely restricted cast placed in a severely restricted setting and yet managed to keep it fresh and engaging throughout. It never feels claustrophobic. It never feels repetitive. His sense of these people and the space they occupy is absolutely bang on.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED
Written and directed by J Blakeson; director of photography, Philipp Blaubach; edited by Mark Eckersley; music by Marc Canham; production designer, Ricky Eyres; costumes by Julian Day; produced by Adrian Sturges; released by Anchor Bay Films. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
WITH: Gemma Arterton (Alice), Martin Compston (Danny) and Eddie Marsan (Vic).