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Van? Check. Location? Check. Masks? Check. Gun? Check. Vic and Danny (Eddie Marsan and Maritn Compston) had it all planned out. Kidnap a young woman, hold her for ransom and take off with the loot. But all that changed when they opted to take Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton).
That’s about all the plot detail I can give without spoiling one of The Disappearance of Alice Creed’s many twists, and revealing just one would tarnish the experience. Once the theater lights dim hold on tight, because writer-director J. Blakeson jumps right into the action. This is no glorified depiction of a kidnapping where someone’s thrown into a room with a cot and served food when necessary. Alice is kept completely restrained not permitted to do a single thing on her own, even go to the bathroom. If you’re able to get through the onset of her abusive and humiliating ordeal, the payoff is huge.
It’s established early on that Vic and Danny have no intention to kill Alice--they simply want the money-- but Vic’s all-business attitude keeps the tension high. Marsan is scary. Alice is terrified of him and the audience is too. In fact even Danny is wary of his partner and fears upsetting him. Vic has his eye on Danny at all times, dictating his every move and reprimanding him whenever he deviates in the slightest.
Danny’s seemingly more benevolent nature provides some much-needed breathing room. There needs to be a sense that Alice has some chance of survival and Blakeson offers that hope as a contrast to the other kidnapper. He further relieves the viewer from the anxiety by including a particularly amusing running gag involving a bullet-shell casing. In an effort to hide a minor accident, Danny must keep Vic from finding this casing and tries just about everything to get rid of the evidence. Well, everything but the right thing.
Even with these bits of comic relief, Alice Creed is an extremely tense experience from beginning to end. After getting through the sheer terror of Alice assimilating to her confines, several more shocking revelations unsettle things even more. When a film shows you twist after twist, it’s easy to feel as though you’re being jerked around and left with a constant doubt about any plot development. But with a movie like this, which provides you with just three characters and a small handful of locations, these bumps in the road are wholly necessary and vital to keep to the story interesting.
Another element that is essential to the success of this film is a proper cast, and this one couldn’t be better. Marsan and Compston make Vic and Danny multifaceted, believable characters, which helps maintain the tension as Alice Creed goes from a kidnapping film into something almost entirely different. But Alice Creed herself is the film’s centerpiece, and Arterton doesn’t hold anything back, pouring every ounce of herself into Alice. Her terror feels so real it’ll break your heart, making you feel as though you have something personal invested in the situation.
After the first 20 minutes, some may find Alice Creed too troubling. It’s not a film for everyone, but the more brutal moments only make for a more exciting experience. Know what you’re getting yourself into before taking a seat because The Disappearance of Alice Creed is an exceptionally powerful and terrifying story. If you commit to accepting that from the start, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy this thriller.
Follow along with all of our special, Tribeca 2010 coverage right here.