From the Archives: The Disappeared (2008)

8 Mar

Johnny Kevorkian’s debut feature is an eerie cross-genre thriller-horror that is sadly let down by its muddled final act. The puzzling denouement is a genuine shame, as for the first hour, Kevorkian delivers a gritty and intelligent study of the themes of loss and isolation. Matthew (a hugely impressive Harry Treadaway) returns home having been in psychiatric care following the disappearance of his younger brother Tom, and frictions soon arise between him and his father Jake (Greg Wise) as old wounds resurface and the blame game begins. As Matthew digs up the past after hearing Tom’s ghostly voice on a video tape of a police appeal, his world soon begins to unravel.

Tonally (for the first hour at least) “The Disappeared” sits somewhere between “The Sixth Sense” and “Kidulthood” as a raw, brutal ghost story set amidst the poverty-ridden backdrop of a dilapidated housing estate. Big bold shots of the block of flats Matthew and his father call home evoke feelings of desperation and seclusion, and it’s against this unforgiving backdrop that Matthew attempts to come to terms with the loss of his brother. His best friend Simon (an uneven Tom Felton) provides a confusing foil for Matthew as he both encourages and ridicules him in equal measure, leaving mysterious neighbor Amy (Ros Leeming) as Matthew’s only confidante.

Seemingly a victim of domestic abuse, Amy feels empathic toward Matthew as they appear to bond over their miserable existences. Haunted by Tom, Matthew becomes increasingly uncertain of his already fragile state of mind, with a particularly chilling encounter in a laundry room (all flickering lights and harsh noises) starkly emphasizing his crumbling demeanor. So far, so bleak; yet Kevorkian’s solid direction and cinematographer Diego Rodriguez’s atmospheric eye perfectly complement the slow burning first and second acts.

Frustratingly, Kevorkian reveals his inexperience by badly misjudging the final act. As Matthew gradually uncovers the mystery behind Tom’s disappearance, with everyone from the local gang to Jake coming under suspicion, Kevorkian seems to be unsure of how to finish the picture. While the first hour sits firmly in the morose thriller camp, the pay off drifts somewhat uneasily into horror territory. This wouldn’t present such a problem if Kevorkian had expressed some faith in his screenplay, but instead the reveal is too tentative and so badly fudged that it’s more likely to evoke laughs of derision than the desired thrills. In addition, a late twist is so starkly obvious that its explanation seems superfluous.

Yet despite its flaws, there is more than enough to admire in “The Disappeared.” Kevorkian demonstrates a knack for the downtrodden, and his screenplay (co-written by Neil Murphy) initially at least shows real craft, as Matthew’s carefully constructed character demands sympathy, a rarity for a film in this genre. In fact, it is Treadaway’s standout performance as the troubled Matthew that really resonates. His vulnerable, thoughtful and insular portrayal of Matthew is superb and suggests that Treadaway is a genuine talent with a promising future.

(Originally featured at www.criticsnotebook.com on 22/06/09)

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