Directed By J. Blakeson
Starring Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little gun-shy sitting down to another British kidnap thriller/chamber drama so soon after the disappointing Cherry Tree Lane. God bless J. Blakeson, though, for reminding just how taut and thrilling a small-scale genre piece can be.
The film, restricted in scope to (mostly) just one flat and three characters, opens with two men dressed in boiler suit overalls coldly buying suspicious supplies (rope, a saw and soundproof wall padding) before digging and marking a foreboding hole in the woods. Like a couple of sinister Ty Penningtons, they quickly retrofit a dank flat into a secure holding cell with chilling efficiency. The new occupant of their makeshift prison is young Alice Creed, daughter of one of Britain’s wealthiest men. She’s quickly snatched off the street, strapped to a bed, locked away and held for ransom as the character drama begins to unfold.
The calculating efficiency of the kidnapper leads is equally matched by that of writer-director J. Blakeson, who pares the film down to tight, minimal scope and plot while maintaining focused, nail-biting tension throughout. As a director, Blakeson shows great promise with his first feature film, adding subtle style and visual finesse to proceedings while washing the lingering stench of The Descent: Part II (which he co-wrote) from his filmography. The hostage situation film is an increasingly tough one to pull of without wading into predictability, so it’s especially surprising that Blakeson keeps things surprising, subverting genre expectations with a heaping helping of twists and an ample dose of tense character friction.
As an acting showcase, like any good chamber piece, The Disappearance of Alice Creed excels; while depth of character is admittedly almost as minimal as the film’s location list, the trio of actors do a fantastic job all the same, making the twists, turns and tense interpersonal conflict all the more effective. Gemma Arterton gets the most overtly impressive role as the imprisoned, terrified damsel in distress, getting plenty of frantic tearful moments, but follows it up with a wealth of fiesty energy. She displays a conviction and emotion that only proves she’s wasted as the token love interest in blockbuster fodder.
Eddie Marsan is, to no surprise, amazing, and is so adept at playing volatile and aggressive characters that it’s scary just to watch him get aggravated on screen, though he mixes things up further, giving his character a layered vulnerability, too. It’s Martin Compston who surprises most, though, as the nervous, nerve-jangled young kidnapper who’s subservient to Marsan’s take-charge Vic. It’s a character dynamic that should be painfully over-worn by now, but thanks to skilled acting and some twist-filled writing, the characters manage to feel incredibly fresh and engaging.
Of course, like any thriller that leans on twists and character revelations to propel its narrative, it’s debatable whether the film has any repeat value after its barrage of surprises have been unloaded. The third act also falls prey to the genre pitfall of losing the earlier momentum slightly, sacrificing the lean, taut focus of the preceding hour as it branches out beyond the three-room flat. That being said though, on first watch it does exactly as intended, delivering an incredibly exhilarating thriller fuelled by sheer nerve-wracking suspense and marking J. Blakeson as a talent to watch.
On the DVD:
Icon Home Entertainment’s DVD comes complete with a generous little helping of extra features, notably an audio commentary with Blakeson (tucked away in the ‘Set-Up’ menu, rather than the ‘Bonus Features’ one). He’s a fast-talking, intelligent speaker with a tonne to say, and the result is an incredibly interesting and informative track, in which Blakeson covers everything from his influences for the film, from the given (Ransom, Panic Room) to the unexpected (Alien). There’s a massive amount of technical info, insight into conception, filming, visual style and Blakeson’s intention with the film and characters.
The ‘Making Of’ documentary isn’t quite as interesting, clocking in at a scant 10 minutes, though it’s more informative and enjoyable than the usual featurettes, cramming in cast and crew interviews and glimpses of audition footage from the actors. Also included is a storyboard-to-scene comparison – a fun little feature gives a look at selected scenes alongside their corresponding storyboards.
A single extended scene provides a longer look at a scene involving a fight over a handgun. Sadly the DVD follows an unfortunately recurring trend of late amongst DVDs – offering deleted scenes with commentary and no option to view it with just the scene’s dialogue. Having Blakeson talk about why he cut it is great, but a little pointless if we can’t actually hear the extended dialogue he’s talking about.
Rounding out the set are two trailers – the US version and the UK version. Both give away too much for a film that’s best seen cold, but they’re great inclusions nonetheless. On the technical side, there’s a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 English audio tracks and an English Hard of Hearing subtitle track.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from today.
Click here to order the Blu-ray from Amazon.co.uk.