‘Alice Creed’ a gutsy, audacious three-character thriller
There are few things more exciting in moviegoing than finding a truly original film by someone you’ve never heard of before. Think back to the first time you saw Christopher Nolan’s Memento, say, or Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects. Remember that feeling of, “Wow, where did this guy come from?” You may get that same hit of awe, coupled with a gleeful sense of discovery, when watching The Disappearance of Alice Creed, a gutsy, disturbing, scrupulously well-honed little thriller from rookie British auteur J Blakeson.
It’s not that Blakeson’s invigorating debut feature resembles either of these complex predecessors in plot or structure. On the face of it Alice Creed seems to be bare-bones storytelling at its most basic, even simplistic: a three-character drama about a crime, its perpetrators, and their victim. But a world of complications lurk beneath this surface, revealed in ever more subversive and flabbergasting increments as Blakeson spins a tale that’s equal parts noir suspense thriller, psychological drama, and fierce morality play. But fasten your seatbelts; you’re in for a feverish ride.
A reader once wrote me that movie critics should never review more than the first 15 minutes of a film, for fear of spoiling the plot. With Alice Creed, even that would be giving away too much. Suffice it to say that Blakeson sets up his premise without ceremony or preamble in the opening minutes as two men who barely utter a word to each other go about their efficient preparations. We see them stealing a van, soundproofing a bare room in a cinderblock building, buying and building a bed (and bolting it to the floor), fastening industrial locks to the door, laying out the tools of their trade—rope, handcuffs, a revolver.
Clearly, someone is up to no good. But before we even know who’s who or what’s what, the anonymous plotters are dragging a young woman into the flat, bound and gagged, with a bag over her head, squirming and struggling for her life with every breath. Her daddy, it develops, has money, and their plan is to ransom her for a fast $2 million. They tie her down to the bed, take a digital photo of an identifying tattoo on her arm, and send it out in an email from their laptop. And that’s the last time anything expected occurs as Blakeson’s story speeds down a taut and twisty path to its harrowing conclusion.
Blakeson’s cast couldn’t be any better. Foremost is veteran character actor Eddie Marsan. (You may recognize him as Inspector Lestrade from the recent Sherlock Holmes, or the hapless, tightly-wound driving instructor in Happy-Go-Lucky.) As Vic, the elder of the kidnappers, Marsan conveys a man of volatile feelings furiously clamped down beneath a carefully-tooled façade of efficient impassivity. Marsan is scary every second he’s onscreen, yet he imbues his character with faint grace notes of courtliness and melancholy.
The young Scots actor, Martin Compston, plays Vic’s baby-faced sidekick, Danny. Apparently less schooled in crime than his partner, and more conflicted (“Maybe your conscience is eating away at your conviction,” sneers Vic), Danny is the story’s wild card in many ways, none of them predictable. And Compton plays him with just the right mix of naiveté and steely desperation.
As their designated victim, the eponymous Alice, Gemma Arterton gives the movie a sense of free-fall recklessness. Physically outgunned by the men, we see her calculating every second, making sure every spare word and gesture allowed to her count, struggling to piece together any kind of advantage. It’s intriguing that although the film begins from the perspective of the kidnappers, much of the plot evolves from Alice’s viewpoint; we don’t know any more than she does about what’s going on, and most of what little exposition Blakeson provides comes out in terse dialogue that Alice pries out of her captors.
Blakeson is masterful at keeping all three of his characters, and the audience, off-balance. (And while hard to watch at times, the film trades more in dread than in actual onscreen violence.) As his characters interact, and their disparate agendas alter the course of everyone’s plans, Blakeson also proves himself a master of visceral storytelling and audacious originality.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED ★★★1/2 (out of four)
With Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston, and Gemma Arterton. Written and directed by J Blakeson. An Anchor Bay Films release. Rated R. 100 minutes.
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