When film acts like drama and strips back the stylistic niceties of
multiple locations, huge sets and large casts to rely on dialogue and
intimate, well-observed characterisation, simplicity can sometimes come
across as deficiency.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a nerve-shredding,
glamourless portrayal of a kidnapping and the ensuing fallout of this
single, brutal act on both the perpetrators and the victim. But it also
falls short in the performances and script the film’s well-crafted plot
From the outset the less-is-more nature of the film is apparent.
Almost fifteen minutes passes before the film’s first word is spoken and
the viewer is drawn into the chilling and meticulous preparations for the kidnap:
a bed riveted to the floor, a room soundproofed, windows boarded over.
There is the feeling that a spartan set is being created and director J. Blakeson
manipulates the bland colours and bedsit squalour of the hideout to
claustrophobic effect. Every hammer-blow pierces, every zip of a bag
frays the nerves.
But in a neat sidestep the actual kidnapping and subsequent
negotiations happen mainly off-camera. We realise quickly that Alice
Creed is going to be a story of three individuals rather than a grander ransom plot. And Ransom provides an interesting clue to the origins and intentions of the film: Blakeson identified a scene in Mel Gibson’s
kidnap movie (Ransom) when a kidnapper shows a moment’s tenderness to
his young victim as the film’s inspiration. This ambiguity is continued
in the film in the engaging and empathetic portrayal of the kidnappers,
Vic (Marsan) and Danny (Compston), who are developed with dark humour and tension as their mysterious background and relationship are fleshed out.
At first, Eddie Marsan (Vera Drake, Gangs of New York) seems
too ineffectual in his portrayal of the older, wiser kidnapper. He is
not helped by dialogue that at times clunks, most noticeably when Vic
orders his victim around with instructions that make him sound like a
mildly irritated geography teacher. As the plot unravels, this softness
is developed and Marsan hits his stride, oscillating from extreme anger
to impassioned lecturing while his young accomplice Danny tries his best
not to cower.
Sure enough, the kidnappers’ generic old lag-young apprentice,
Fletcher/Godber (of UK TV comedy Porridge) relationship at the beginning
begins to crack and give up its secrets in a series of neat twists keep
up the film’s tension and pace. Gemma Atherton, cutting her teeth on more arthouse fare after Quantum of Solace and Clash of the Titans,
is a triumph as the Alice Creed of the title. It is a note-perfect
performance of terror and opportunism that invites respect and revulsion
in equal measure. Atherton also looks refreshingly Rubenesque (or
naturalistic if you prefer) when stripped naked to a bed. Martin
Compston is the real enigma of the film, on whom all its revelations
turn. As the nervous Danny, he offers duplicity and ambivalence to
beguiling effect in a film that deals with shifting loyalty and
As the film speeds to its bloody conclusion, the plot falls back onto
well-worn staples of crime melodrama which do not do its original
premise justice. It is partially rescued by a final scene that puts a
clever spin on the title and brings a neat little piece of inventive
film-making full circle. This is a film that keeps you on the edge of
your seat but falls just short of its initial promise of becoming the
year’s cult British offering.