First time director J Blakeson quickly plunges us into the abduction of a young woman called Alice (Arterton) by two men who have meticulously and silently decked out and fortified a flat in which to keep her confined. The full horror of the situation and terrifying prospects for Alice make for uneasy but compelling viewing. The dastardly duo soon reveal their apparent motives and demand a huge ransom from Alice's affluent father, but it's not long before the hesitant Danny (Compston) incurs the wrath of his methodical fellow kidnapper Victor (Marsan). The story then veers off in a surprising direction that you're best off knowing nowt about before entering the cinema.
The tiny morsels of information about the abductee and abductors that are drip-fed to the audience make us analyse every little gesture and rare word in order to work out the truth. Blakeson frequently opts to frame the characters in extreme close-up, which not only exacerbates the claustrophobic atmosphere but also allows us to study what lies beneath their eyes. This would of course be futile without the depth given to their characters by the leads. Gemma Arterton makes major inroads into shrugging off the Bond Girl tag by acquitting herself well as the feisty victim, conveying an authentic sense of fear at the ordeal she endures. As the plot progresses, the actress gradually teases out a different aspect to Alice's persona which may or may not - depending on your interpretation - force a bit of a rethink as to where our sympathies should lie.
It's little surprise that acclaimed directors like Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick and Mike Leigh have snapped up Eddie Marsan recently, given the sheer presence and emotional credibility he can effortlessly muster. As Victor, he has little to say but is absolutely mesmerising even when one ill-judged twist does him no favours at all. Martin Compston works well alongside the brooding Marsan, providing the film with several moments of macabre humour - including one amusing interlude with a problematic bullet shell.
In the latter stages, The Disappearance Of Alice Creed tries too hard to constantly raise the levels of intrigue through an overuse of plot twists. One in particular certainly causes an initial shock, but soon leaves you in head-scratching mode after recalling earlier events that simply don't ring remotely true with this development. Furthermore, the ending is deeply unsatisfying and doesn't work at all for reasons that we won't go into. Despite faltering and failing to capitalise on the strong first half, Alice Creed deserves to find an audience - and not one solely comprised of young males gawping at the various displays of Arterton's bare flesh. The performances, camerawork, Britishness and no-nonsense mood of the movie are all praiseworthy, and with just a bit more restraint of the twists, we could have had a bone fide cult classic.
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