Vic (Marsan), an experienced criminal, and Danny (Compston), his younger partner, meticulously prepare a van and a flat for use in a kidnapping. They snatch Alice (Arterton), estranged daughter of a millionaire, and keep her bound and blindfolded while negotiating the ransom. However, the abductors and the hostage all have secrets which complicate the situation...
It’s always good to be aware of your limitations, and this stripped-down debut feature from British writer-director J. Blakeson (co-scripter of The Descent: Part 2) abides by rules it lays out for itself, just as its low-rent criminal mastermind insists on the scrupulous details of his kidnapping plan. With only three characters on screen, you have a limited number of possible relationships between them — all of which are explored, though not necessarily in the expected order. The small world of the story is bounded by a few anonymous settings — a white van, a flat in the city and a disused factory in the woods. Despite a seesawing balance of power, there isn’t much in the way of violent action... until the third act.
Blakeson starts the movie with his criminals disguised as boiler-suited workmen, efficiently setting up a crime as if they were doing a loft conversion: stealing the van, soundproofing it, fitting multiple locks to the doors in the flat, bolting a bed to the floor, fixing shackles to the bed. Naturally, no crime in the movies can go off without a hitch, and the terrified, hooded victim is only helpless until she gets a handle on who’s taken her and what she can do about it. The Disappearance Of Alice Creed has a couple of revelations, reversals and plot hiccoughs held back, and the characters aren’t as fixed as they seem at first: Eddie Marsan’s buttoned-down villain has a hidden desperation that gets worse as he nears his (not entirely financial) goal; Martin Compston’s tagalong sidekick wavers between sympathy for the victim and a steely callousness that can’t be good news for either his partner or the girl; and Gemma Arterton’s bedraggled, tied-to-a-bed, forced-to-pee-in-a-bottle heiress builds up a head of righteous rage which doesn’t promise a happy outcome for anyone.
In the days of double bills, this would have made an excellent supporting feature: it works best if you don’t know much going in, and it never pretends to be any bigger or more significant than it is. There’s character meat to be chewed, but the dominant factor is the ratcheting-up of suspense — as the crooks get nearer and nearer their big score, some heated disagreements and their cunning victim threaten to throw things off in a manner which means someone is going to get hurt.
A small but perfectly formed crime drama. And, without making a fuss, a proper nail-biter, too.