The opening of The Disappearance Of Alice Creed is a fantastic how-to guide on planning, preparing for, and executing the abduction of a human being. So be sure to pay attention and take detailed notes.
Two men walk silently through a store picking out items for the day ahead… a drill, rolls of duct tape, a ball gag… just the essentials. We see them next applying skills they picked up in shop class to secure and soundproof a van and a bedroom. (I’m pretty sure the latter was featured on an episode of the TLC show, Trading Spaces.) Remodeling complete, they dress in identical uniforms, drive out in to the world, and return with a writhing and whimpering woman with a hood over her head. They arrive at the dimly lit bedroom, and without uttering a single word to each other or to their wiggling prize they shackle her to the bedposts, remove all of her clothing, take some pictures, dress her in sweats, and leave her in a dark and locked room.
Her name is Alice Creed. And before her ordeal is over secrets will be revealed, relationships will be shattered, and everyone’s will to survive will be tested.
The synopsis above only covers the first ten minutes of the movie, but to give away any more would be unfair to everyone involved. The Disappearance Of Alice Creed is that rare breed of thriller (and of film in general) that attempts to play out almost completely in a single location. Once they arrive in the apartment the film keeps us there for most of the remainder. The minimal geography adds more weight and import to every twist and turn than would be found in a traditional thriller with a grander canvas. Rarer still, the movie mostly succeeds too with all three cast members and writer/director J Blakeson doing a fine job at keeping things tight, suspenseful, and entertaining.
Just as important in a film this size are those performances, and the three actors give their all with sincerity and conviction. Danny (Martin Compston) and Vic (Eddie Marsan) appear to be competent kidnappers in sync with each other regarding the job at hand, but the actors breath unique life into their respective roles. Marsan’s Vic is a strict and humorless villain with layers concealed beneath conviction and determination. But when their detailed plan falls apart in unexpected ways his steely resolve begins to crumble along with it. It’s an impressive dissolve away from confidence. Danny is a bit less sure of himself at times and Compston relays that insecurity in such a way as to make the kidnapper more human and identifiable in his own uncertainty.
Gemma Arterton has the most difficult role of the three, and she delivers with the most complete and affecting performance of her young career. Creed is stripped bare both literally and emotionally, and Arterton makes her pain, shame, and fear tangible. She enters the film as a victim, but soon the wheels of survival and instinct take over and a very deliberate battle of wills begins. The character endures quite an emotional ride and while it’s an unpredictable one for the audience Arterton maintains control until the very end.
Blakeson makes effective use of his three-room location allowing us to only move between a living room, bathroom, and bedroom. It’s effectively claustrophobic and as the pressure of the situation builds we can feel it overflowing the strict confines we’ve been stuck within. The audience is never allowed to grow tired of the minimal scenery thanks to unexpected reveals and turns that work more often than not.
Single location thrillers are difficult to get right, and the best ones can be counted on one hand. The Disappearance Of Alice Creed isn’t a complete success, but it still manages several surprises throughout. We know going in that the kidnappers’ plan won’t quite unfold the way they hope, and it’s a fun and twisty ride watching it all fall apart. Combine these unexpected twists with three strong and unique performances and this little thriller becomes a flawed but entertaining minor gem worth watching.
The Disappearance Of Alice Creed is in limited theatrical release and also available from Video-On-Demand.
The Upside: Some solid twists and unexpected turns; fans of Gemma Arterton’s naked skin will be quite happy; Eddie Marsan is always fantastic
The Downside: The ending becomes more predictable as each twist is revealed (not a completely bad thing as the ending itself is not a twist of any kind); Vic gets repetitive with his severe mistrust of Danny
On the Side: J Blakeson also wrote The Descent Part 2, but he really hopes you don’t hold that against him.