Rich, young, beautiful and the belle of the ball. We should all be so cursed. But what happens when despite all of your "gifts", you still crave one thing above all others - a father’s love for his little girl? And what happens when your wealth and beauty and the appearance of "having it all" makes you a prime target for ransom from a supposedly loving father? If you’re Alice Creed, nothing good.
Danny and Vic became buddies in prison. With time on their hands and nothing better to do than plot and plan life after prison, they conceived an elaborate scheme to set themselves up for life on their release - kidnap a rich girl, with an even richer doting daddy who will pay anything to get his little girl back. Merely common thugs, the boys have no intention of harming their captive and in fact, believe it a top priority to be gentlemen during the entire escapade, making sure not a hair is harmed on their victim’s head. Their target - Alice Creed - and how they come to choose her is a spoiler I will not reveal. With Alice safely their captive, the boys demand 2 million pounds from Daddy. Will Daddy pay for his little girl’s life? Or did Danny and Vic pick the wrong Daddy to bargain with?
Opening with a powerfully dynamic montage, the sequence is high energy, intriguing, fast paced, deliberate and determined in the visual and the accompanying score, but key to the fascination of what is unfolding is that the entire sequence is dialogue free, thus riveting you to the screen. There is no way that after seeing this opening that anyone would not be glued to the screen to see what happens next. Without taking time to catch one’s breathe, writer/director J Blakeson jumps right into the kidnapping. Camera angles are fantastic with faces and body parts of the victim very hidden and off kilter, giving an even greater sense of the frenzied and frenetic and the uncertainty and fear and horror of what is happening. As a viewer, you are hooked, destined to never turn your eyes from the screen for the remainder of the film.
Knowing that Gemma Arterton did this film after "Prince of Persia" doesn't surprise me. Having seen some of her physicality in "Prince of Persia" and speaking with her then about the thrill of accomplishment at tackling some of her own smaller stunts, in ALICE CREED, she goes for broke with mental and physical exhaustion. What I find very compelling is the fact that in multiple scenes, you can see the skin imprint of the bondage. These aren’t loosely tied ropes, nor a loose fitting gag nor comfortable handcuffs. Arterton really put herself through the rigors to achieve authenticity. Totally in keeping with the storyline (which abound with twists and turns), much of Alice’s panic is told through her eyes and let me just say, Arterton conveys terror without words like no other. Her emotional intensity is riveting. However, as the film nears its end, I sensed that she lost some of her edge in maintaining the strength and cunning of Alice.
Eddie Marsan is phenomenal as Vic. I remember how much I loved his character and his quirkiness in "Happy-Go-Lucky." Here, he shows an entirely new side of his talents bringing this tacit weirdness that just reels you in. He makes you wonder what's going through his mind. What is he doing? What is his past? And then as is Marsan’s style, when he gets upset and starts speaking rapid fire, he's got that gross spitting thing going that in this case, as Vic, just suits the character and the story so well. The resolve is gone, the emotional breakdown begins. He is fascinating to watch.
As for Martin Compston, he has a sweetness about him that as Danny, at times comes across like that of a little puppy dog wanting approval; following Vic's every move and order. But then there's this level of a boy wanting to be a man, and Compston fills Danny with a welcoming false bravado. I found myself rooting for him to be a good guy. Particularly effective is a scene where he has his foot to Arterton’s throat. Given the lensing and Arteron’s capabilities, the reality of the scene is overwhelming, leading to even more white knuckling psychological twists for the audience.
Written and directed by first-timer J Blakeson, I have to ask - just where the hell did J Blakeson come from? Talk about a fertile mind, a visual mind, a mind that knows how to create psychological terror and tension! Brilliant! He spins the story every which way but loose, twisting and turning on a dime, taking your mind down one road, only to veer to the left or right with another unexpected twist. The repetitive shock factor is more than worth its weight in gold and succeeds in evoking new levels of emotion with each punch Blakeson throws. This is brilliant storytelling. A four week shoot with only three actors, Blakeson’s work is meticulous and calculated, from the brutish, brusque, menacing opening to the surprising conclusion. He takes your mind to its darkest reaches, pushing you as the audience deeper into your own fears. This is the work of a real manipulative master. There is a humanity to the story and the characters that pushes the envelope with the breaking points of the human psyche, the buttons to push. A real testament to capturing the "what if contingency" mind set. Great thematic use of color. I must say, however, a couple of scenes did last too long which detracted from the tension.
But what really blows the mind are the two major plot twists involving Danny and Vic and Danny and Alice, neither of which I will divulge, but suffice to say that each gives rise to more questions which will have your mind reeling. Duplicity reigns supreme on multiple levels while Alice’s sense of self-preservation is eye-opening and mind-boggling. And not to be missed is a pristinely written and executed scene involving a toilet that is key to the story. Blakeson’s care and attention to seemingly small details that feed into the bigger picture are a welcome surprise. Disappointing, however, is that the questions that develop fall to the wayside unanswered creating several noticeable gaps in the backstory.
Phil Blaubach's cinematography is beautifully done giving the film a high polish veneer, particularly with his lensing of the contrasting use of color between a "red room" in the hostage hotel suite and the actual "captivity room", appreciative visuals that lead to praise for production designer Ricky Eyres. As for the editing, the opening montage alone shouts Oscar caliber work for editor Mark Eckersley, who superbly sets the tone for the entire film, creating a level of visual and psychological excellence by which the rest of the film is measured.
Taut, gripping, riveting intensity. Don’t let THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED disappear from your radar. One helluva film. One helluva ride.
Alice Creed - Gemma Arterton
Eddie Marsan - Vic
Martin Compston - Danny
Written and directed by J Blakeson