The Disappearance of Alice Creed. Starring Gemma Arterton, Martin Compston and Eddie Marsan. Directed by J. Blakeson. Rated MA 15+ Strong themes, violence and coarse language 100 mins.
With more twists and turns than a bucketful of worms, The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a cracking British thriller that keeps you guessing from opening scene to end credits — and even beyond, because it leaves a couple of tantalising question up in the air.
It has a cast of only three and is set almost entirely within a small apartment, but from the very first frames it impresses with its brisk, sharply etched storytelling: in a lengthy, dialogue-free opening sequence, two men steal a van, go shopping in a hardware store and use the things they purchase to turn the suburban flat into a virtual prison, blocking off windows, soundproofing it and adding heavy padlocks and bolts.
This is to be their hideaway when they execute a plan to kidnap a young woman, whom they drag, screaming and struggling, with a hood over her head, to the fortified bedroom. Tying her to the bed, they strip her naked, dress her in clothes of their choosing, then dispose of her clothes, along with their own apparel. That they change clothes after each stage of their plan is just one example of their meticulous attention to detail.
Only then do we get to know anything about them. Vic (Eddie Marsan), the cold-eyed senior of the pair, and Danny (Martin Compston) are ex-convicts, and their kidnap victim is Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton), for whom they are going to demand £2 million ransom. Vic and Danny evolved their plan while in jail, and on their release it was only a matter of finding the right girl — an only child with a doting father who has the means to pay for her safe return.
In three-handers like this the situation is usually played out through escalating personality clashes and tensions between the protagonists, and to some extent this is true of this film. But first-time director J. Blakeson has a few tricks up his sleeve in his well-thought-out screenplay.
The first twist comes as a big surprise and you think, “Aha, so that’s where this film is going.” But the next twist pulls the rug out from under your feet, and you are forced to reconsider. Then the next twist. Then the next …
If perhaps it has too many convolutions to be entirely credible, Blakeson has plotted it so cleverly and written his characters so strongly that most audiences will be forgiving and, entering into the spirit of the film, dare him to switch direction one more time.
The three actors are outstanding. As the calculating Vic, Marsan gives a powerfully intense performance, full of menace; as Danny, Compston convincing portrays a likeable young crim uncomfortable with the way his older partner dominates him; and Arterton registers strongly as the terrified victim.
While it can hardly be recommended to those uneasy with profanity, violence and nudity, this low-budget thriller delivers a big impact efficiently and stylishly and is a “must see” for fans of the genre with the stomach for it.
Icon Distribution Out September 9
Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting