Damaged men, desperate deeds


The Disappearance of Alice Creed (MA). Director: J. Blakeson. Starring: Martin Compston, Eddie Marsan, Gemma Arterton. 96 minutes

The Disappearance of Alice CreedThe word is 'methodical'.

During the tense opening minutes of The Disappearance of Alice Creed, two blue-collar thugs (Compston and Marsan) go about the task of transforming an abandoned apartment into a prison. There are plans afoot, presumably unpleasant plans. The sight of them purchasing and employing seemingly innocuous tools and materials — including a double bed — is imbued with an air of menace.

Methodical. We are transfixed by the rhythmic workmanship of these two men as they board up windows, reinforce doors, soundproof walls, without needing to exchange a word or barely a glance. Clearly, theirs are well-laid plans. And you know what they say about even the best-laid plans.

So from the outset the tension in The Disappearance of Alice Creed runs high. As the men assemble and make up the bed, it's easy to anticipate that unpleasant things are going to happen upon it.

Sure enough, moments later they don balaclavas, head out through the streets in a nondescript white van, kidnap a young woman (Arterton) and bring her back to this prison.

And that's only the beginning.

'Methodical' is also a good word for the way the plot unfolds, although don't take 'methodical' as being synonymous with 'slow'; in fact the plot is relentless, and always surprising. It would be a disservice to prospective audiences to give too much away, as this superbly crafted thriller thrives on plot twists that are often astounding but never incongruous.

Suffice it to say there is a ransom to be paid, and the kidnappers' scheme involves humiliating and sometimes physically bullying the young woman, Alice. This makes for nasty, uncomfortable viewing, although it's in keeping with the premise: these are damaged men committing desperate deeds; things are bound to get dangerous.

The film is undoubtedly a case of 'style over substance', although love and betrayal emerge as key, poignant themes. Most of the action takes place within the apartment, an intimate environment that imprisons the viewer along with Alice, allowing them no escape from the attrocities that occur therein.

The cast is limited to this trio of characters, who form a triangle that itself becomes as claustrophobic as the setting. The performances are all strong, especially from Marsan, an accomplished UK character actor who here adds 'enigmatic brute' to his repertoire.  

Importantly, the film is also very funny. If hearing a joke is as much about anticipating the punchline as it is about the punchline itself, then The Disappearance of Alice Creed nails this relationship between humour and tension. A set-up that involves one character trying to discreetly dispose of an expelled bullet casing is one such hilarious knuckle-whitener; a potentially fatal joke that is expertly told, provoking both gasps and laughter.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail

Topic tags: The Disappearance of Alice Creed, J. Blakeson, Martin Compston, Eddie Marsan, Gemma Arterton



submit a comment

Existing comments

I worked in disadvantaged schools, and again and again I heard young delinquents getting their ideas from TV and film - and adults do too. You cannot censor all - dreadful things were done by teenagers copying The Exorcist and kungfu movies. But deliberate showing of criminal sexual and financial behaviour should not be taken easily by film critics and we the innocent watchers. OK they can't be censored but we need not add to their profitability. We don't do anything but be entertained by such films, but it is a case of causing brothers to stumble. The limen for criminality, violence and sexual misconduct is raised.
valerie yule | 16 September 2010

George Bernard Shaw once opined the standard litmus test for dramatic arts, which is equally applicable to film and is certainly relevant to the film being addressed: No conflict, no drama. While there is doubtless a case to be made for a link from creativity to causality - in some cases, to some degree (Martin Bryant's video vault held some disturbing influences pre-Port Arthur) - there is to date no credible body of research or evidence for any deterministic, 'magic-bullet' theory of film directly influencing anti-social behaviour. I suggest we can thank Eureka Street for raising an ethical perspective on what may be perceived as the more negative elements of popular culture; rather than cast ES as a not-so-innocent bystander. How can you expect people to make an informed decision on whether or not to view a film if critics merely circle the wagons in some kind of moral intransigence, and don't engage with either the artists or the art? Wagons ho, please.
Barry Gittins | 16 September 2010

I agree with Valerie. I have long held the view that feeding criminal actions from 'entertainment' into those with less imagination is mad. There is more than enough violence against others, particularly women, without another film containing such. Also seeing this type of imagery often has a 'normalising' effect so that it all becomes less shocking and doable - appealing to those trying to redress injustices, perceived or real, in their own lives. I wonder at the minds who put this stuff together.
Hilary | 16 September 2010

I used to love thrillers. Now, at 68, I have come to the conclusion that an alien viewing our movies would gain the impression that our cultures (and I use the plural advisedly) gain their entertainment from the contemplation and enjoyment of brutalised women. Art reflecting life or life imitating art. Yet it was one such film that caused an epiphany for me. About the violence in Northern Ireland. Patriot Games I think. The roof fell in as I realised that this was reality reflected, and that all sides in the conflict had a vested interest in perpetuating it. So I guess for me its a line ball.
Kim Power | 16 September 2010


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up