The “disappearance” in the title of J Blakeson’s taut British thriller The Disappearance Of Alice Creed refers to the kidnapping of a millionaire’s grown daughter, as well as to the attitude her abductors try to take toward her in order to complete the job. Eddie Marsan plays a fastidious ex-con who hashes out his plan to the last detail—including when, where, and how the victim can go to the bathroom—while Martin Compston plays his younger, more impetuous partner. Marsan growls at Compston every time the kid’s focus starts to flag, or whenever he shows any sympathy for the mark. Marsan doesn’t want Compston to start thinking of Alice Creed (played by Gemma Arterton) as a person, and certainly not as “Alice Creed.” But it’s hard for either of them not to see Alice as Alice, given how forcefully she makes her presence known.
The Disappearance Of Alice Creed is a lot like a theater piece, given that it takes place primarily in one grimy apartment over a short period, and given that Blakeson doesn’t have a flashy visual style, and tends to focus more on the writing and the performances, keeping the pacing taut and the energy high. Almost as soon as Arterton learns the rules of her imprisonment, she starts looking for a way to change them, and as she tries to press any advantage she can find, Blakeson gradually reveals that Marsan and Compston have plans and secrets they haven’t shared with each other. Throughout, Blakeson toys with the audience’s sympathies, subtly altering our rooting interest with each new side conversation or act of violence.
Alice Creed is a clever little contraption, even though it runs into the problem that a lot of twist-heavy suspense movies have: Once it’s spooned out all its surprises about two-thirds of the way through, it loses a lot of its entertainment value. Still, as long as the ride lasts, it’s a wild one. With strong performances and the careful rendering of efficient modern kidnapping techniques, Blakeson finds ways to make good use of his assets: three talented actors, a few evocative locations, and a script that springs like a mousetrap.