I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

tn_alicecreedTHE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED is a simple story about two kidnappers and their hostage. And it’s not one of those stories where they become friends. It’s a simple, well-executed thriller and especially before the plot starts thickening this thing is deeply unsettling.

It had me right from the great opening scene: a montage of these two nefarious individuals (Martin Compston and Eddie Marsan) shopping at a hardware store and then preparing an abandoned house as a kidnapping hideout. It just goes through step-by-step as they add locks, cover windows, soundproof the walls, put together a bed with chains on it… it’s like a sinister version of one of those home makeover shows.

They know exactly what to do, they don’t talk, they just do it. Very professional. There’s even a shot of them stopped to rest and have sandwiches after finishing the foam padding on the walls. I bet they even time their lunch break. Marsan is older, like maybe he’s the boss or the mentor. Or maybe something else.

They prepare the inside of the van, reinforced for containment. They ritualistically lay out all the tools they’ll need. They put on their outfits (clip-on ties – don’t wanna get choked). Every detail seems to have been considered. They even changed the clock in the house, I’m not sure why. (Maybe ’cause the old one had sharp edges?)

mp_alicecreedWhen they snatch poor Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton, “Strawberry Fields” from QUANTUM OF SOLACE) the movie completely dehumanizes her – we don’t see any of her life at all, not even the place she’s standing when they grab her. The camera is inside the van as they drag her in. We don’t see her face until after they’ve tied her to the bed and stripped off her clothes. No, not to sexually assault her, it’s not like that. They treat her more like cattle. They take photos of her to send to her rich father with the same kind of attitude a farmer would have checking the teeth on a cow or something.

It’s like a good pulp novel – you don’t like a single thing about these bastards, but the look into their process is so interesting it tricks you into watching them and wanting to find out what happens. And by having the filmatism sort of mimic their point of view it implicates us in their crime. We’re like hey, no, we’re not part of this. We’re just watching. No, not like that. It’s, uh– we’re innocent, we swear!

One of the main things that makes the movie work is this Marsan guy, he’s fucking scary. Kind of a short stocky guy with goofy ears and cruel eyes (the opposite of the “gentle Matt Damon eyes” I mentioned in the last review). I looked him up and it turns out he’s been in a bunch of movies I’ve seen, but I never noticed him. Here he just looks so cold and tightly wound. But strangely when he puts on the ski mask to hide his face from the girl he looks less scary. He’s very direct and all business, like a highly competent bureaucrat trying to do his job efficiently. It’s only when we see him in the other room, growing increasingly frustrated with his young, inexperienced partner, that we know he’s an atrocity waiting to happen.

There are some twists and turns as the movie goes on. There are some things that turn out to be going on that weren’t initially apparent. Alice does what she can to try to get these guys to let her go, or give her a window for an escape attempt. As we start to see character arcs and plot and all the shit that you’re supposed to do in a movie it starts to feel more like a pretty good low budget thriller with clever use of limited locations and less like a well-placed sucker kick to the lower gut. But it’s still pretty good and it’s able to roll into the finish line on the strength of that early push.

It stays pretty smart, with only one part I saw as a not-believably stupid move by one of the characters, and it has one of the best title reveals I’ve seen in a while. Not that I’ve seen alot of good title reveals, or thought of “title reveal” as being an actual thing that has a name and can be ranked by quality. Well, forget it, if it’s worth mentioning you’ll know it when you see it. Pretty good movie though.

The director is called J Blakeson, he wrote THE DESCENT PART 2 and a couple other things. Hopefully we’ll see more from him. His next one’s supposed to be “a TITANIC-like historical tragedy and love story” about the Chicago Fire and written by Christopher Nolan’s brother, so I guess that means we will.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 25th, 2011 at 12:40 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

20 Responses to “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”

  1. FIRST!

    oh…sorry, wrong websight.

  2. Will look out for this one as well then. That’s three recent reviews now that have put me in the mindset to see movies, along with the ones I’ve already seen (chiefly “Kill Zone”).

    I also am waiting for “Attack the Block”. Hope you’ll have a review of this one when it comes out, Vern.

  3. Knox Harrington

    April 25th, 2011 at 4:07 am

    Eddie Marsan should have been given every acting award imaginable for his role in Happy-Go-Lucky. It’s a very rare example of undeniably masterful acting.

    Haven’t seen The Descent Part 2 yet. Don’t really know if I want to. The first one was one of the best horror movies in the past decade. I have this nasty feeling Part 2 might spoil it for me.

    Hey, Vern, I see Deadly Crossing is out on DVD. Kinda surprised you haven’t reviewed it yet.

  4. Marsan’s in GANGS OF NEW YORK. He’s a classic supporting actor, good, reliable, and shows up everywhere once you start lookin’ for him.

  5. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    April 25th, 2011 at 5:03 am

    What is a title reveal? Is it like the flying round the dark thing that turns out to be the batman logo in Tim Burton’s Batman? Or am I way off the mark? You and your jargon, honestly.

  6. Knox Harrington

    April 25th, 2011 at 5:37 am

    I like the title reveal in 127 Hours. Actually, it’s not a “reveal” at all. It’s just a normal title popping up, but the timing is perfect.

  7. Ace – I don’t know if “title reveal” is a real thing, but that’s what I chose to call the point when the title comes on screen. I’ve noticed that Christopher Nolan is big on showing the title at a moment where it will take on an extra layer of meaning. This isn’t Nolan but it’s kind of like that.

  8. ALICE CREED is good shit. It’s also precisely two shots too long.

    And it’s got Gemma Arterton. GEMMA! GEMMA! GEMMA!

  9. Funny you mention the title reveal of 127 HOURS, Knox– the one in TRAINSPOTTING is the first one that jumped to my mind when I tried to think of a memorable one. It doesn’t surprise me that Danny Boyle puts thought into that kind of little detail.

  10. Knox Harrington

    April 25th, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    I’d like to see a kidnap movie where the kidnappers don’t get caught or killed in the end. Just a straight procedural detailing the planning, execution, negotiation and finally the exchange. Then you end the film by driving home the emotional toll it took on all those involved; the trauma and fear of the victims but also the tension and stress on the kidnappers, as well as the relief everyone feels after it’s all over and done with.

    I know there’s the danger that it might be unsatisfying to audiences expecting the hero cop to save the day, but in the right hands it could work.

  11. Knox, I’m sure you must have already seen it but the best kidnapping movie is kurosawa’s “High and Low”. It’s not exactly what you’re talking about but I think it would satisfy you.

  12. also totally off topic sorry but Mesrine Part 2 is now available on the ol Netflix Instant Watch, hint hint Vern.

  13. Vern doesn’t have Netflix dude

  14. it’s difficult to sustain a 90 min movie with 3 characters and one confined set and it shows in this film.

    The films just plain ran out of steam at the 45min mark. I’m not saying that this is a bad film—the first 45min was tight and full of twist and turns, but ultimately the film wasn’t able to transcend the limitations of its own format.

    And Vern, would love to hear your take on The Eagle (2011).

  15. Marsan is a legend and is rapidly becoming one of the most sought after character actors in the world. First encountered his work in Gangster No. 1, where he has an amazing scene with Paul Bettany’s character interrogating him. An actor with true range and screen presence. I’d also like to give a shout to Daniel Mays (off topic slightly I know), who is like a younger Marsan (not in looks, but in talent).

  16. Knox Harrington

    April 26th, 2011 at 5:12 am

    Yeah, High and Low is a good one, Gilmore. Totally forgot about it. My favourite “modern day” Kurosawa movie.

    And speaking of a 90 min movie with 3 characters and one confined set, Richard Linklater’s Tape is everything a super low budget movie should be. It’s one of those movies that makes you go “Hey, I could have done that.” Except I couldn’t have, because I’m not Richard Linklater and I don’t have friends like Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman.

    Vern should do a Centurion vs. The Eagle review. I think Centurion would win.

  17. Funny story. I was house-sitting today, and the first thing I notice when I look at their DVD cabinet is “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”. I thought I was the only person who would’ve heard of it. Turns out it was shot on the Isle of Man – didn’t see that one coming.

    So how was it? Well Knox, I disliked “Tape” – I thought the whole thing looked like it was shot by a film school student or something – and I didn’t much care for “Alice Creed” either. The performances were good, the story was for the most part pretty good, the twists were ok, but something was missing.

    Perhaps it was the fact that it had less production value than the average episode of “Midsomer Murders”. This probably shouldn’t be a problem, but to somebody whose favorite films are the likes of “Juggernaut”, “Lost in Translation” and “The Birds”, it is. Sorry if that makes me superficial.

    And talking of “The Birds”, you know how that movie is virtually without music the whole way through, except in a few strategically-placed scenes (the radio in the garage, the children singing nursery rhymes, etc)? The reason that works so well is because the ambient track of the wind in the background fits the film perfectly. It was a specific choice by Hitchcock to score the movie in the way that he did.

    “Alice Creed” doesn’t have that, at all. In fact, it barely has any background noise. No planes that I noticed, no cars (I know it’s supposed to be isolated, but shouldn’t we at least hear crickets chirping in the night?) Nothing at all other than the actors talking and the sounds that they’re making. I have no idea why they didn’t correct this but it bugged the hell out of me. The whole thing sounded like it was shot in a soundproof set (which, for the indoor scenes, it probably was).

    Come to think of it, it reminded me of the time I watched “Scream 3″‘s commentary track, and they showed the entire film without music. That’s what it was like. Watching a horror film without any of the atmospheric music.

    Things I did like: I liked the final twist at the end [MAJOR SPOILER COMING] in which the cold-blooded psycho turns out to have more humanity than the outwardly more-approachable younger guy. They did something similar with the two customers in “Hostel 2”, and as much as that film didn’t even reach the level of cheap imitation of the original “Hostel” (which as you all know by now, I regard as a genuine modern masterpiece of horror), I liked that about it.

    But overall, while I agree with many of Vern’s points on this film – the plotting is tight, the characters are pretty well-portrayed – I think the total lack of immersion damns it. The sound design is so bad, I never once really believed that these characters or the place that they’re in is real. And a few good performances isn’t enough to offset that.

    Sorry, just telling it like it is.

  18. I couldn`t get this movie. The beginning was great and the older kidnapper gave a good performance, but the two younger actors were horrible. The bit where Emma has to act scared in front of a dv-camera was some of the worst acting I`ve seen in a long time. I stuck with it for another half an hour, hoping that her bad acting was on purpose and the big twist would be that she was in on it from the beginning, but no such luck. Total amateur theater.

    Which is funny, cause that doesn`t usually bother me, but I just finisted teatching some kids in the art of directing actors and know I`m totally conscioues about performances when I watch a movie. Ignorance is a goddamn bliss.

    I think I might have enjoyed this very contrieved thriller if it didn`t set out to be a highly realistic movie with it`s brilliant opening, and then suddenly turned into a illogical twisty b-movie.

    SPOILERS

    Why didn`t she just shoot the second kidnapper once she had the gun? Why didn`t the young kidnapper hide the shell in his pocket? Why did she turn off the cellphone when she knew the police were tracking her? Why did the young kidnapper choose his girlfriend as a victim, it would surely make him the nr 1 suspect? Etc…

  19. Caught up with this one last night, and I’d say it’s a genuinely entertaining thriller. However, it does wind up being a disappointment, because the opening promises something more lean, mean and streamlined than the rest of the movie turns out to be. In fact, it turns out to be one of those movies that throws in needless plot twists every 20 minutes or so, in between overwrought suspense sequences. And then it seems to reach a natural ending point like 5 different times during the last act but keeps going until it basically reaches the worst of all the possible endings. It’s almost an entirely different movie by the end, all fat and drawn out.

  20. I saw this movie and HEARTLESS close together and have come to the conclusion that there is no Eddie Marsan character i’d want to see on my doorstep.

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