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alice-creed-006Three characters, three, maybe four sets and one hundred minutes of unrelenting tension. That’s the best way to describe “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” the feature film debut from British director J Blakeson. It’s a small, low budget thriller, but nonetheless is as thrilling as any movie we’ve seen this summer.

The risk with reviewing “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is in giving you enough detail to whet your appetite but not enough to spoil the movie’s many unexpected twists and turns. I can tell you that Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton) is a woman kidnapped by ex-cons Vic and Danny (Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston) because her father is wealthy, she’s an only child and she’s, quote, slim enough to carry, unquote. After following a meticulously planned abduction they demand a ransom of two million pounds while Alice is trussed up in a soundproof room. Enter complications. End of synopsis.

Like “Shallow Grave,” another English suspense with more twists and turns than Piccadilly Circus, “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” in addition to the tightly written script, uses music and clever editing to create an atmosphere thick with tension. Its taut construction and claustrophobic feel are typical for the genre, but director Blakeson steps outside the conventions of kidnapping movies to add in elements that are truly surprising. For instance, and this isn’t a spoiler, when a stray shell casing can become the catalyst for not only humor but anxiety you know the movie is connecting. On the surface it feels like a 70s exploitation flick—the kind of thing Quentin Tarantino would rescue from drive-in obscurity to release on DVD—but there is much more here than schlock.

Beneath the movie’s sheen of tension and brutality is a story about how complicated kidnapping can turn out to be when feelings become involved. It is a psychological drama about trust, power and what happens when you deviate from the plan.

As the puffy-eyed Alice, Gemma Arterton proves there is more to her than just the pretty face we’ve seen in “The Prince of Persia,” “Quantum of Solace” and “Clash of the Titans.” Despite spending most of the film in chains with a bag over her head she manages, by times, to convincingly convey vulnerability, genuine fear and strength. It’s a complicated role that sees her go through a lot, both mentally and physically, and she pulls it off.

Equally strong are Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston as the kidnappers. Marsan’s Vic is an intriguing bad guy—controlling, unpredictable but also mannered and meticulous. Best known as Scott, the angry driving instructor in “Happy-Go-Lucky,” his presence supplies much of the movie’s feeling of unease. Compston’s Danny seems like a more standard criminal type, but reveals unexpected deeper dimensions to the character when the twists start flying. Is he a callous opportunist or a victim of the domineering Vic?

“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is a nasty little piece of work. It is remorselessly bleak but carefully crafted enough to be intriguing.

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