The first full length feature of a director can sometimes be deceiving; you don’t always know if you’re watching work from a director still learning and perfecting their trade or if it’s someone who has a perfect grasp on what they are doing. In many way a great director would never feel like they know everything and continue to try new things and learning with every movie made. In regards to J Blakeson and his feature length debut, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED, I believe he is a filmmaker with a bright future ahead of him, but is not without a few minor flaws lurking in an otherwise extremely solid debut.
To explain too much about the plot would spoil the journey, but basically what we have are a couple of guys who have kidnapped the daughter of a rich man and are holding her for ransom. It’s a very simple set up, but executed in such a way that it is told from the perspective of the kidnappers rather than the family of the kidnapped or the victim herself. If you delve too deep into the details of the kidnapping it would ruin any surprises waiting down the road.
The opening scene establishes the tone of the film, with the men, Vic (Eddie Marsan) and Danny (Martin Compston) fixing up an apartment with a variety of locks and padding on the walls and windows as well as the inside of a van in preparation of their kidnapping of Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton). I can’t say that I felt that the tone was incredibly tense, but I did find it to be very engaging and interesting. There is very little dialogue at the beginning and the kidnapping is done in the first ten minutes; from then on out it’s Vic and Danny dealing with their catch and setting up the switch for the money they are asking for.
Blakeson takes the minimalist filmmaking style and runs with it, utilizing only the three leads and very few settings. The majority of the film takes place entirely in the fortified apartment with the characters interacting with each other. The two kidnappers both give really good performances with Eddie Marsan being the standout. Gemma Arterton has spent her fair share of time appearing in bad movies in 2010 (CLASH OF THE TITANS and PRINCE OF PERSIA) but you can breathe easy here as she is actually very good here even though when you first see her most of her performing is through a ball gag as she’s stripped naked and photographed. That scene plays somewhat like a snuff film though so it’s not quite as erotic as one would probably hope, but never fear she sheds the clothes once more of her own accord later on. Sadly she spends a lot of time whining through the ball gag and with a bag over her head over her head, but given the nature of having to act with those constraints she actually does it very well. There’s no lines like “ease your storm” to have you hiding your face in shame that you’re watching a complete train wreck.
My biggest complaint, which is extremely minor because I love a good twist, but there is probably one too many here. I say the complaint is minor because the twists actually relate to each other which create an interesting conundrum that we ponder as the film goes on; it’s a complaint because I think the film would have been just as interesting without one of them. As is I can’t complain too much because the film always kept my interest even though I was on the fence a couple times.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED is a very solid kidnapping thriller full of great performances that asserts itself from the beginning as interesting and engaging. J Blakeson’s debut puts himself in the position of a filmmaker to keep your eye on as he tweeks and refines his approach. The missteps for the debut filmmaker are few and far between which prompt me to give the film a big thumbs up.