I had high hopes for ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’, about which I’d heard good things. I’m afraid, however, that viewing this film was a pretty disappointing and also slightly depressing experience.
‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ focuses on the kidnapping of the eponymous Creed by a couple of criminals called Danny and Vince. It has an excellent cast (Gemma Arterton, Martin Compston and Eddie Marsan) and a talented first-time feature director in the form of J Blakeson, who also wrote the screenplay.
And there are some very interesting choices made in the film. For example, it eschews the formulae of most other kidnap movies by focusing entirely on the activities of the kidnappers and their victim.
So why did I have problems with it?
‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ opens well. For the first five minutes, we follow Danny and Vince as they make preparations for their crime. We see them shopping for tools and furniture, as well as stripping and then preparing the flat in which they will hold their victim. This opening builds tension and gives a really clear picture of the relationship between the two characters (and what’s particularly impressive is that not one word of dialogue is uttered until just after the five minute mark).
Then Alice Creed is kidnapped.
And, for me at least, it’s from this point that the film starts to lose its way.
The fact that ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ stays focussed on these three characters is one of the film’s potential strengths (the vast majority of the action takes place within the one flat and that does give proceedings a nicely claustrophobic feel). But the problem is that we never really get to know who any of these people are. Danny, Vince and Alice remain strangely two-dimensional.
Why is this an issue? Well, because it makes for un-engaging viewing, despite excellent acting from the cast and also because, combined with the decision to focus just on the kidnappers’ side of events, it means that you spend a lot of time watching the brutalisation of a young woman; time that could have been spent exploring the characters’ psyches.
I’m going to have to justify that remark about brutalisation, aren’t I?
Here we go: you’ve got a feature-length film to fill. You decide not to use flashbacks. You decide to stay mostly in a flat. Your characters have a few conversations about the mechanics of kidnapping. They talk about their plan. There are a few twists (all of which, I’m afraid to say, I managed to anticipate). There’s some tension, to put it mildly, between the kidnappers. There’s a bit of business with a bullet that won’t flush down the toilet. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to fill enough time. So, what do you do?
You show sequences in which the kidnappers do what they do with kidnap victims. They tie Alice to a bed. They cut her clothes from her with scissors so that they can undress her and put new clothes on her without untying her. They video and photograph her. They force her to read a videoed appeal for money with a knife at her throat. They punch her. They bring her a bucket to defecate into. They keep her gagged with a hood over her head.
And the thing is, none of this is very pleasant to watch, even when you know it’s a fiction. And there was just too much of it in general for me to stomach (the film-makers don’t skimp on detail in these sequences).
As a reviewer, I felt obliged to watch the entirety of ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ and all of the special features on the DVD (the ‘Making of…’ included is a touch short, but actually quite interesting and there’s also a feature commentary from the director as well as the US and UK trailers). Had I not been reviewing it though, I would have bowed out about 20 minutes in.