9 August 2010
Here’s what’s wrong with this film: the English writer-director J Blakeson has constructed the entire thing around the notion of two men kidnapping a woman, locking her in a padded room while her hands and feet are lashed spread-eagle on a bed, and waiting while they get some ransom money. In one of the earliest scenes they strip her naked and take photographs of her terrified face and body while she shakes with terror. She appears nude or partly nude occasionally thereafter. Is it a well-acted, taut thriller? Yes; AND this doesn’t make up for the fact that it needs to take violence against women as the premise for the story.
I’ve mentioned several times here that I’ve had it with gratuitous scenes of violence against women, especially rape. Showing rape onscreen doesn’t forward the narrative; these scenes constitute mere porn — and I’m starting to believe that the same goes for your garden variety violence against women too. Just think back to any random horror film you’ve seen in the last ten years, to that scene in which the blonde hottie in her matching bra-and-panties set opens the closet door and starts to scream prettily before she’s killed off with masterful totality. It doesn’t matter if we get a parallel scene of some dude near-naked and screaming, because men are never as satisfyingly helpless as women onscreen. (And this means I will never see “The Killer Inside Me,” which even male critics found objectionable.) “Alice Creed” doesn’t have a rape scene, but it still engages in a warmed-over version of 1970s sexploitation. Gemma Atherton has enormous eyes, luscious lips, and a lithe body; who gives a shit about seeing Martin Compston and Eddie Marsan naked or helpless? In fact, given Marsan’s lifelong lack of dental work, I’m not even sure I want him to open his mouth much less take off his shirt.
I love a good thriller, and I love the general outlines of this one: a cast of only three, virtually all its action taking place in an apartment, focusing especially on the myriad ways that each character might take turns bonding with another one against the third. There’s nothing like the psychological dynamics of triangulation that offers a lot of possibility for a filmmaker. But even if I were to be at my most generous, “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” just isn’t good enough to make up for its sophomoric reliance on Atherton’s naked body, terrified eyes, and tears smudging her generous eyeliner. You walk out feeling as if Blakeson wants to be congratulated for coming up with a nifty twist on an otherwise very old set of tropes. Get over yourself, dude, and use your newfound caché to get to work on a second film that doesn’t just ask women to play the same old roles onscreen.