J Blakeson’s The Disappearance of Alice Creed is, in a single word, Hitchcockian. Its high intensity plot shifts gears and story focus midway through, each character finds themselves buried in a pit of paranoia, and the director is a British dude. To keep from spoiling the flick, we’ll leave story detail to this: a millionaire’s daughter (Gemma Arterton) is kidnapped and held for ransom. Through a series of slow revelations, characters’ intentions come into question, and we soon discover Alice’s life isn’t the only one at risk. The film’s sense of tension increases as the story progresses, working towards an unknowable yet wholly satisfying payoff, and its many twists and turns force audiences to re-examine their readings of each character.
Creed’s first ten minutes are spent in silence, watching Alice’s captors soundproof and secure a small abandoned apartment where most of the film’s action takes place. This minimalism pervades the entire production, with as few characters and lines of dialogue as possible, lending a claustrophobic air to an already stressful scenario. Alice and her two captors are the film’s only populace, and Alice spends most of the film ballgagged and writhing on a bed. This approach feels reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rope, another film pitting two criminals on a collision course within a small apartment, yet in the much more social setting of a dinner party. Where Hitchcock focused on outer eyes for tension, Blakeson depends solely on the relationships between his three characters for effect. This is to both the film’s success and detriment, as it necessitates character complexity which can be difficult to swallow on face value. Much time is dedicated to developing the characters’ feelings towards their role in the kidnap scenario, yet when something independent of that scenario surfaces, like a love interest, it feels jarring. Purists appreciative of the film’s initial minimalism may take these twists with a grain of salt, yet they become the narrative spine later in the film, effectively making or breaking audiences’ immersion in the action. Nothing is so far-fetched that it feels implausible, yet one of the kidnappers is inevitably placed in an unfortunate relationship-heavy role that initially feels goofy and shoehorned in.
Blakeson finds ways to make simple, small objects the subject of intense suspense; a bullet shell under the bed, a hole in the wall, and a cell phone in a pocket are all used to great success. One of the film’s great scenes involves flushing a bullet down the toilet. Sounds simple enough, but it turns into a recurring problem that leaves audience members cringing. If this review has left you without indication as to the story’s primary meat, that’s because overexplanation would ruin the film’s surprises. The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a well-crafted suspense thriller that Hitchcock himself would’ve been proud to have in his canon. Though its minimal approach suggests simplicity, the relationships that unfold on-screen become increasingly complex, weaving a web that ensnares both audience and characters alike. In this age of overblown, apocalyptic thrillers, you’d be doing yourself a great disfavor missing out on this film.