TIFF '09 Review: 'The Disappearance of Alice Creed'


Efficiency means a whole lot when you're presenting something like a kidnapping thriller. We've all had our share of captors, hostages, and ransoms in all of our favorite books, TV shows, and movies -- so if you're a first-time British filmmaker, how do you distinguish your concept - The Disappearance of Alice Creed - from all the others?

Well, first you take a little inspiration from films that get some things right, such as Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave, Rob Reiner's Misery, and Sidney Lumet's Deathtrap -- and then you add a few new spices of your own, which first-timer J Blakeson certainly does. And then, if you have the resources and the skill, you hire a few strong actors and refine your thriller into the tightest little flick it can possibly be.

None of which is to say that Blakeson's debut, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, is any sort of revolutionary genre film, but when someone is able to re-tell the old "hostage" story using only three actors, four locations, and (at least) five nifty twists, then I say that's a low-budget import that's worthy of some attention. And little things mean a lot: Disappearance is shot and presented in crisp and austere fashion, and it kicks off with a fantastic sequence in which two kidnappers (Martin Compston and Eddie Marsan) are preparing for their new arrival: We're treated to every last detail of their post-abduction preparations, and one can sense that Blakeson is starting out with crisp and efficient sequence -- just so we'll be able to feel the pressure once chaos starts to reign.

Their hostage, of course, is Alice Creed, a perfectly normal British girl who has a perfectly wealthy father. Kidnappers Danny (Compston) and Vic (Marsan) are really focused on keeping the crime on schedule and entirely without incident ... but that doesn't work out at all. For reasons best left to the movie to explain, the three-person dynamic quickly gets twisted and distorted beyond all reason. And while some of the revelations or milder twists might be predictable, Blakeson seems intent on doling out a few more, just to keep you interested.

Even without the crafty and contorted screenplay, The Disappearance of Alice Creed would be worth seeing for Blakeson's austere work behind the camera and the near-flawless interplay between the three leads. And in a rare case of me saving the best for last, it must be mentioned that Gemma Arterton pretty much owns the whole movie. As the title character, Arterton is asked to be amazingly vulnerable, powerfully miserable, desperately crafty, and suddenly brave. Compston and Marsan more than hold their own (especially in their many scenes together), but it's the recently-ascendant Ms. Arterton who grabs this tight little thriller and makes it her own.

In limited release, on demand and on Xbox, Playstation and Amazon August 6, 2010.

Available on Blu-ray & DVD November 23, 2010.