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The Disappearance of Alice Creed

January 12, 2011

There is a moment in Mike Leigh’s sublime 1993 film, Naked, where the astonishing main character Johnny (David Thewlis) has a conversation with a night duty security guard (Peter Wright) outside an empty office block. On the subject of clichés, the security guard remarks that “a cliché is full of truth, otherwise it wouldn’t be a cliché” to which Johnny swiftly retorts “which is itself a cliché”.

I’d hoped to avoid indulging in cliché when discussing The Disappearance of Alice Creed. For example, I tried to resist describing it with the phrase “taut thriller”. However, such a description is full of truth, the film is precisely that. It is the impressive debut of writer-director J Blakeson, a British screenwriter and director of two shorts, who shot the film on the Isle of Man in February 2009 on what would appear to be a shoestring budget (hence the favourable locale of the Isle of Man, with landscapes indistinguishable from the British mainland and a healthy amount of local government support for film projects). The film was well received on the festival circuit and appears to have garnered strong, positive reviews across the board although, undeservedly, this doesn’t appear to have translated into much box-office success. The Disappearance of Alice Creed premiered in April 2010 and was released on DVD in the UK in October 2010.

Plot details will have to remain scant given the nature of the script but the film features only three characters. Two ex-cons, Danny (Martin Compston) and Vic (Eddie Marsan), kidnap a young woman from a wealthy family and hold her in a secured flat that they have carefully converted into a makeshift prison. Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton) has been abducted in order to extract a substantial ransom from her rich daddy but, as the tense minutes and hours pass in the claustrophobic flat, all is not as it initially seems with each character and, steadily, details are revealed that keep each one guessing as to the true motives of the other.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed opens with a wonderful sequence in which we see Danny and Vic meticulously preparing for the kidnapping. There isn’t a single word of dialogue but it quickly becomes apparent what the two men are up to as they enter a dilapidated flat, line a stolen van with plastic sheets, purchase soundproofing mats, ropes, locks and begin affixing bolts and chains to a newly installed bed. It’s a wonderfully sinister and suspenseful introduction that sets the scene brilliantly for what follows. With strict budget limitations the film relies on an array of truly riveting narrative reveals and strong, convincing performances from the cast. Eddie Marsan, who appears to have emerged as a heavyweight British acting talent in recent years, brings a particularly engaging intensity and menace to his role that provides the confined setting with much of its danger and tension.

Writer/director J Blakeson is deserving of the bulk of the plaudits here, having crafted and executed a professional and impressive debut that belies the meagre resources at its disposal. The Disappearance of Alice Creed looks great, with some superb photography invoking the films of Blakeson’s main artistic influence and inspiration, David Lynch. He is a self-taught filmmaker who has been hammering away at attempts to make films since he was around 19 years old, developing his skill as a screenwriter in London whilst awaiting the opportunity to get a project off the ground. Hopefully this is only the beginning of a long and fruitful career for the guy and we can look forward to more interesting and enjoyable flicks with him at the helm. As stated above, it’s difficult to describe this film without lapsing into an array of clichés but that’s no crime when they are actually true. That means it’s perfectly apt to apply words like “riveting” and “taut thriller” but, although I did find myself at one point shifting to the edge of my seat when watching this movie, I’ll stop short of saying that I maintained that position throughout the viewing experience.

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