[22 November 2010]
PopMatters Features Editor
This excellent thriller is worth every bit of your attention, but you may just have to trust me.
You see, the movie opens with two men kidnapping a young woman, hauling her to a soundproof apartment, chaining her to a bed, and stripping her naked. But before you can pull the DVD out of the machine and break it in two – because you don’t do “torture porn” – things get really interesting, and never look back. Indeed, this is the rare film where one really should not know much at all before heading into it. My review will be brief, and spoiler-free.
The complex script is tightly controlled, the performances are all note perfect, and the spare direction is astoundingly effective throughout. Set in two rooms for almost all of its brisk runtime, and involving only three actors, the film is alternately claustrophobic and revelatory. A rumination on class, sexuality, and the idea (if not the reality) of love, underneath the grimy setup there is a welcome degree of thematic ingenuity here. As we are kept guessing about who is whom, what is what, and everything builds toward a Usual Suspects-esque reveal, much of the subtext satisfies the active mind. It’s nice to feel respected by a script.
In the title role, Gemma Arterton (who is almost unrecognizable from her turn as bond girl in Quantum of Solace), gives an especially terrific and deeply brave performance, hinting at what’s underneath but refusing to give it away. Having very much enjoyed her work in the lead role in the BBC production of Tess of the D’Urbervilles a few years back, I was not surprised to see her exhibit such range. The role is amazingly demanding, and she comes to it with an inspired courage and a real understanding of the complexity of the character. The film is worth seeing for her work alone.
As her abductors, Martin Compston (The Damned United) and Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes) are nearly as good, each of them tackling difficult characters and keeping us guessing. The film is clever enough that it might have been OK had the acting not been of this caliber, but as it is, this stands among the very best thrillers in recent years.
Though nothing is sugar-coated, the film never descends into any celebration of violence, of the flesh, or of pain. There is a lot of nudity, a lot of violence, and a lot of uncomfortable tension, but it all feels necessary and true. The writer/director, J Blakeson (he does not seem to have a first name), is new to the game, having only a couple of other credits on his resume (one of which being the screenplay for the utterly unnecessary sequel to The Descent). He comes at the film with the sure hand of a veteran. Many directors have attempted to build a film around one or two circumscribed locations, but few have pulled it off so effectively. Indeed, with each new surprise, every sudden twist, you just fall deeper under its sway.
In short, The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a smart, grown-up, black little movie, with among the most satisfying endings I’ve seen in years. There’s nothing special in the extras category, just the requisite commentary track and making of featurette.