Disappearance of Alice Creed, The (United Kingdom, 2009)

September 08, 2010
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Disappearance of Alice Creed, The Poster

When I first saw The Disappearance of Alice Creed at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival, I thought it was a sure bet to be picked up for United States art house distribution. I was wrong. Eventually, however, after the dust from the festival had settled, the producers had lowered their asking price, and Gemma Arterton's star had gone supernova, Anchor Bay stepped up to the plate. The film is not getting a consistent or widespread release; it's showing up in a few "select" theaters around the one-year anniversary of its North American debut in Toronto, but most of those interested in the movie will have to wait for the DVD release. (The limited theatrical distribution is designed to remove the "direct-to-DVD" stigma.) In this case, that's fine, since the claustrophobic movie might arguably play better on the small screen than on the large one.

When Arterton made The Disappearance of Alice Creed, she was still largely an unknown, although she had appeared as a Bond Girl in Quantum of Solace (she played a character with the tongue-in-cheek name of Strawberry Fields). In the wake of Alice Creed, however, she captured the female leads in both Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia, and is now attached to more than one high-profile title (including an adaptation of Ruth Rendell's The Keys to the Street, written by Christopher Nolan, and Ridley Scott's Alien prequel). Despite her sudden international visibility, Arterton has indicated she wants to keep a foothold in the indie world and is willing to do whatever the role requires. The Disappearance of Alice Creed argues she's as good as her word, since what this movie demands is nudity and bondage - not exactly typical fare engaged in by A-list actresses. It's refreshing to see someone putting the needs of the part over her image, and this is far from a halfhearted performance. It's gritty and gutsy.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed is as intense and as harrowing as any British thriller to emerge from the east side of the Atlantic in recent years, and there are some good titles vying for that distinction. After a few week years, the quality of motion pictures being produced in the U.K. is on the upswing. The Disappearance of Alice Creed gets by primarily on the basis of a tightly written script, solid acting by unknowns, and a building sense of suspense that finds little relief from beginning to end.

This is essentially a three-character piece, with the only actors being Arterton as Alice, Martin Compston (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) as Danny, and the creepy Eddie Marasan (the driving instructor in Happy Go Lucky) as Vic. The director, who uses the cryptic moniker of J Blakeson, has two shorts to his credit behind the camera; this is his feature debut, and it's an impressive, assured one.

The film begins with an electric opening sequence that details the preparations made by Danny and Vic as they prepare to kidnap the unsuspecting Alice. This part of the plan goes off without a hitch - it's while Alice is handcuffed to a bed in a soundproofed room and a ransom demand is being made of her rich father that things start to fall apart. The first two-thirds of The Disappearance of Alice Creed is peppered with tiny revelations and surprises, each of which changes the viewer's perspective ever-so-slightly and allows the movie to shift course. This is 2/3 of a great film, but the last 30 minutes (or so), while not terrible, are anticlimactic. Once the movie gets to a particular point where all the surprises have been sprung and the betrayals committed, there's nowhere else to go but through a routine set of motions. Blakeson has an opportunity to do something memorable with the ending, and he's within a toe of doing it, but he backs away, perhaps fearing that without a compromise, he might lose a distribution deal. All things considered, however, this is a well-paced, entertaining thriller. It's basic, involving, and trusts the actors to carry off the script.

If you're one of a lucky few, you might be able to see it "early" in a theater near you. Otherwise, this is one to highlight on your Nextflix queue.

Disappearance of Alice Creed, The (United Kingdom, 2009)

Director: J Blakeson
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Martin Compston, Eddie Marasan
Screenplay: J Blakeson
Cinematography: Philipp Blaubach
Music: Marc Canham
U.S. Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Run Time: 1:36
U.S. Release Date: 2010-09-09
MPAA Rating: "R" (Nudity, Profanity, Sexual Content, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1