J Blakeson’s TIFF ‘09 film “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” starts its U.S. theatrical run this Friday, August 6. Blakeson provided indieWIRE with an exclusive clip and commentary from his feature that played at this year’s Tribeca, and stars Gemma Arterton, Martin Compston and Eddie Marsan.
“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is a claustrophobic kidnap thriller. Two men snatch a young woman off the street and then hold her for ransom. She is Alice Creed, the daughter of a wealthy man. But Alice is unwilling to play the perfect victim and soon she and her kidnappers become embroiled in a three-way powerplay for money and survival.
The majority of “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” takes place in a single location – the apartment in which Vic and Danny hold Alice hostage. So the design of the apartment became extremely important. And Ricky Eyres (the production designer) did a fantastic job with it. As it is supposed to be an abandoned property, it had to be almost totally empty, which meant we couldn’t fill the space with lots of cool furniture or art to make it look more interesting. So we had to make the fabric of the apartment itself visually dynamic. Ricky did this by using bold colors, off-kilter architectural features and contrasting surface textures. And these were chosen to reflect the theme and mood of the film. When choosing the final look of the apartment, Ricky and I had many discussions about who the previous owner of the apartment may have been. We wanted to get a feeling of history in this place. And we put in little motifs to hint at this. For example (as you can see in the clip), when Vic and Danny remove the old bed headboard you can see a strip of old wallpaper below it – as if someone had redecorated the room, but had been too lazy to paper over the bottom of the wall as they knew the bed would hide it. It’s a fleeting moment in the film, but along with all the other little details, it hopefully gives the apartment a feeling of authenticity and makes it feel less like a movie set.
It was also important to me that the film wasn’t rooted in any specific time or place. Although it was all filmed on the Isle of Man, it could have been made anywhere in the world. I wanted the film to feel mythic and timeless. I wanted an audience to feel that this could have happened twenty years ago or be happening right now. It could be taking place halfway across the world, or just down your street. Also, rooting the film in a humdrum normality (the apartment, the hardware store, eating sandwiches etc.) hopefully makes the world feel much more recognizable. This isn’t a far-away world of movie gangsters. This is right on your doorstep. Vic and Danny could be people you know.
The clip is the opening five minutes of the film. It shows Vic (Eddie Marsan) and Danny (Martin Compston) preparing for the crime they are about to commit. Unlike most kidnap films, we don’t start the film with the victim and her family, instead we see the bad guys. And we see they are very capable. I hate it when bad guys are dumb in films, so it was important to me that Vic and Danny are smart. They’ve thought this venture through. They’ve planned it meticulously. They’re patient and careful – which, to me, makes them scarier than if they were merely violent and impulsive. And although much of what they actually do in this opening sequence isn’t very threatening in itself, it all adds up to something potentially horrible.
I wanted to make the audience uneasy from the very start. So there are no opening titles. You get thrown straight into the action. There’s no dialogue to tell you what’s going on, you have to play catch-up and figure it out for yourself. Plus the action is edited in jump-cuts and composed of dolly/steadicam shots intercut with sudden close-ups to put the audience on edge. And all this is aided by Marc Canham’s score. As the opening sequence is dialogue free, his musical cue acts almost like an overture for the film. As well as building the tension, it weaves together a number of the key themes. It doesn’t pile on the “ominous dread” heavy-handedly, but remains ambiguous and enigmatic. Marc’s music jitters and shifts with nervous energy. It ebbs and flows, building and diminishing in waves, working up to a climax as the kidnappers drive the van to get their victim. But then it stops as the kidnappers wait patiently. This hopefully leaves the audience with that breathless feeling of tension. The moment of calm before something terrible happens. Like a cartoon character who has run off the edge of a cliff and has a second to ponder the fall before gravity takes hold.