The Disappearance of Alice Creed

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009)

The Disappearance of Alice Creed first published by Sight & Sound, May 2010

Review: “You’re thinking too much”, Vic (Eddie Marsan) tells his much younger parter in crime Danny (Martin Compston) near the start of The Disappearance of Alice Creed. “Don’t think.”

These are wise words of advice to anyone trying to navigate their way through the double- and triple-crosses that come to dominate this twist-driven abduction plot. One scene flows quickly and seamlessly into the next, just so long as you do not stop for even a moment to think about how it all fits together. Most of the plot’s ambiguities come down to the person of Danny, a treacherous bisexual and vacillating timeserver whose double-dealing becomes so entangled that by the end it is no longer clear where his plans have ended and his improvisations have begun. If his two closest cinematic models would seem to be John Turturro‘s snivelling player Bernie Bernbaum from the Coen brothers’ Miller’s Crossing (1990), and Ewan McGregor‘s selfish chancer Renton from Trainspotting (1996), then accordingly Danny too gets to chase desperately after a small object trapped in a toilet’s S-bend, and to beg for his life in an isolated wood. 

Which is to say that this feature debut from writer/director J Blakeson (who co-wrote The Descent: Part 2) is an assured, if not exactly original, shanghaiing of the tropes of genre – indeed, Blakeson freely admits that the idea for his script came from a single scene in Ron Howard’s Ransom (1996). Not that Blakeson fails to set his own stamp on such familiar materials. The film’s opening, for example, is a breathless montage showing Vic and Danny’s methodical preparations for their crime with wordless economy – and, in a bold cinematic coup, the film’s title is kept off the screen until the closing credits, after its meaning has been reoriented somewhat from what viewers might originally have been expecting. 

Between this beginning and end, the film is essentially a claustrophobic three-hander in which the captive Alice (Gemma Arterton, gamely spending much of the film gagged and bagged), though bound to a bed, refuses to take her imprisonment lying down, while her captors – one apparently domineering and cold, the other supposedly passive and caring – prove equally adept at playing (and reversing) their allotted rôles. All three of them are in different ways prisoners, all three are acting, and all three are engaged in ‘fucking’ one another – ‘fucking’ being the word used in the script to denote ‘double-crossing’, although its more usual sense certainly persists. 

The business in this middle section of the film soon becomes repetitive and not a little implausible, and the restriction of most of the action to a small, sealed apartment serves to underline the film’s refusal to refer to anything beyond the enclosing walls of genre – but it is also here that the cast gets to shine. There are thrills to be had, and some black laughs as well – just so long as the viewer is content with not thinking too much.  

The Disappearance of Alice Creed
Vic (Eddie Marsan) and Danny (Martin Compston)

Synopsis: Two men abduct Alice, and bind her, gagged and hooded, to an apartment bed. After videotaping the captive, Vic leaves to demand ransom from her wealthy father. When Alice tricks the gun from the other masked captor and fires a shot into the wall, he reveals that he is her boyfriend Danny, and that he will share the ransom with her if she keeps playing the prisoner. She returns the gun. 

When Vic gets back, it becomes clear that Vic and Danny have been lovers since they were in prison together. With Vic gone again, Danny unties Alice, promising that they can dump Vic once he has brought the money. Alice handcuffs Danny to the bed, tries calling the police on a mobile phone, and reaches for Danny’s doorkey, only for him to overpower her again. Later, when Vic discovers both the phone in Alice’s pocket and the bullet hole in the wall, Alice tells him that Danny plans to double-cross him. 

Alice is brought to a condemned warehouse and shackled to a radiator. In the woods, Vic reveals he intends to kill Danny for his treachery, but Danny, though shot, gets away. Vic returns to the warehouse to kill Alice, but Danny intervenes, shoots Vic, and leaves Alice there in her shackles. As his dying act, Vic slides Alice the keys, and she escapes. Following a trail of blood-stained money on the country road outside, she finds Danny dead at the wheel, and after pushing his body onto the tarmac, drives off to disappear with the money bags.   

strap: J Blakeson’s claustrophobic feature debut locates BDSM, two-timing and rôle reversal in an abduction scenario

Anton Bitel