An impressive first feature from writer/director J Blakeson, The Disappearance of Alice Creed boasts a plot that is deceptively simple: two ex-cons kidnap a young woman and hold her for ransom. But plot is only the mechanism that Blakeson uses to explore character and psychology in this edgy, economical thriller. Dazzling turns by stars Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston and Gemma Arterton; unrelenting suspense; and a wealth of black humor will appeal to an arthouse crowd, though the violence and other unsavory aspects of the story will turn off some. Intelligent marketing and decent word of mouth should generate at least moderate box office returns.
Blakeson's assurance with his material is evident from the beginning as Danny (Marsan) and Eddie (Compston) visit a big-box hardware store and purchase otherwise innocuous items like duct tape and sound proofing materials, these items become something altogether more ominous when brought together in the same shopping cart. The film's first minutes of Alice's (Arterton) kidnapping are nearly silent, as the two men efficiently go about putting their plan in motion. It is only after they have secured their hostage that their personalities begin to emerge, with Danny acting as the aggressive alpha male to the younger and less volatile Eddie, a dynamic that shifts as the kidnappers' control of the situation appears more and more illusory.
There are shades of Shallow Grave in the movie's pitch-black humor, suggestions of a down-market Sleuth in the interaction between Danny and Eddie and a touch of Mamet in the complex interplay between the characters, yet Alice Creed never feels stale. Nor is it claustrophobic or stagebound, despite the fact that nearly all of it takes place within two rooms of a small apartment. Blakeson's writing is excellent, the story shot through with surprises and peppered with dialogue that rings true. Mike Leigh veteran Marsan (Vera Drake, Happy Go Lucky), Ken Loach find Compston (Sweet Sixteen, Tickets) and Bond girl Arterton (Quantum of Solace) are all perfect, emphasizing the humanity in their not always sympathetic characters.
Blakeson's writing resume is thin-a few shorts, co-writer on a made-for-TV family movie, Mist the Tale of a Sheepdog Puppy and a collaborator on The Descent: Part 2. The Disappearance of Alice Creed essentially comes from out of nowhere. It's an arresting debut. Regardless of how the movie fares once it leaves the film festival circuit and hits theaters, Blakeson is building a career that will not disappear any time soon.
Distributor: Anchor Bay
Cast: Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston and Gemma Arterton
Director/Screenwriter: J Blakeson
Producer: Adrian Sturges
Rating: R for violent content, pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity.
Running time: 98 min.
Release Date: August 6 ltd.