With “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” screenwriter and first-time director J Blakeson has avoided the numerous pitfalls that befall many fledgling filmmakers by thinking small. Shot in four weeks with a cast of just three actors, Blakeson has evidently concentrated on getting the crucial aspects of successful filmmaking just right; a strong cast, slick direction and an engrossing plot that’s brimming with greed and deceit.
Blakeson opens the picture with a near on five-minute silent montage of the methodical and precise conversion of a flat into what is effectively a prison cell by two men. It’s a tense and menacing exposition that establishes the tone of the picture with frightening effect. As a woman is subsequently brutally abducted and imprisoned, the dynamics between the abductors and the victim begin to play out in the stifling confines of the flat. Vic (Eddie Marsan) is bullying and controlling, while Danny (Martin Compston) is twitchy and nervous, seemingly as frightened as the fraught Alice (Gemma Arteton).
Blakeson drives the plot along at a relentless pace; as Danny and Vic make a £2 million ransom demand to Alice’s father, it transpires that this supposedly simple plan might not play out quite as intended. Duplicity and self preservation come to the fore as ferocious twists thrust the upper hand from pillar to post, which ensures the outcome is enveloped in a massive dollop of uncertainty. Confining the majority of the action to the flat ramps up the tension which is only ever broken by brief moments of levity (a scene involving a bullet and a toilet is particularly well observed), while the sparse yet intense screenplay lends the picture a sense of anxiety and its protagonists motivations a degree of ambiguity.
Blakeson’s skillful direction, belying his inexperience, is complimented by Philipp Blaubach’s rich cinematography which gives the picture a polished and professional veneer. Blakeson’s resounding success, though, has to be in the casting and characterization of his players. Arteton is admirable as the vulnerable yet feisty Alice; Marsan is suitably gruff as Vic; and Compston particularly loathsome as the duplicitous Danny. It’s an acting masterclass from the talented triumvirate. All said, it’s a thrilling debut from Blakseon; and while the plot verges on the risible at times (given the sheer number of twists and turns), it’s always enthralling.