Hitting theaters August 6, The Disappearance of Alice Creed centers on two ex-cons (played by Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston) who decide to kidnap the title character (Gemma Arterton, Prince of Persia), the daughter of a rich businessman. The tables are turned, however, when the captors discover Alice isn’t willing to give up without a fight, and has stronger survival skills than they ever imagined. With only three characters on-screen, in mostly one location, The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a claustrophobic, harrowing experience. The film marks the feature debut of writer-director J Blakeson, who previously co-wrote the sequel to The Descent.
Just before the movie’s release, MM spoke with Blakeson about his new thriller.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): How did you come up with the story for The Disappearance of Alice Creed? Was it an easy script to write?
J. Blakeson (JB): The idea was initially born out of necessity. I wanted to write a film that I could direct myself—no matter what. Even if it meant funding it on credit cards and shooting in my own apartment. So I set myself limitations to make this achievable: There would be only three actors in the film and most of it would take place in a single location. Once I set these rules I started thinking of stories that would work effectively within the confines of these limitations. I pretty quickly thought of doing a kidnap story. But I wanted to do the flipside of the usual kidnap story; so instead of showing the victim’s family worrying, the cops doing phone traces, etc. I wanted to concentrate on the intimate nature of kidnapping and build a story that was about three characters stuck together in this extreme situation.
No script is ever easy to write, but my self-imposed limitations actually helped make this one a bit more straightforward. The problem I find with writing is that you have infinite possibilities. As long as you can imagine it, you can write it. And often keeping the story simple and focused is the hardest part. But I was forced to keep it simple by the nature of the limitations.
MM: What was the experience like directing your first feature?
JB: I had a fantastic experience directing my first feature. I’d spent about 10 years trying to get a first feature off the ground, so was just thrilled to finally get the chance. I was lucky to have such a great cast and crew for my first feature. Not only were they wonderfully talented, but they were such good fun to work with.
MM: What was the biggest challenge?
JB: I guess the biggest challenge was the schedule. We had a very short time to cast the film, find the right crew and do all the prep. Then we only had 24 days to shoot it in. This would have been tight even if I’d wanted to use a free-wheeling, handheld style, but was much tougher because I was determined to give the film a more considered cinematic style. So it always felt like we were chasing the clock. It’s a credit to Philipp Blaubach (the cinematographer) and the rest of the crew that we managed to get everything we needed and that it looked so good.
MM: The set-up for the film sounds almost like a play. Did you ever consider adapting it for the stage? How important do you think the claustrophobic setting is in terms of generating suspense?
JB: No, I’ve not seriously considered adapting it for the stage. To me it is absolutely a film. The way many of the sequences work is purely cinematic. And to be adapted into a play, it would have to change a lot. Because for a film about three people in one location, there’s actually not a huge amount of dialogue. There are a few dialogue-heavy scenes, but much of the film is actually comprised of set piece sequences that rely on the editing and the language of cinema to work.
I think a claustrophobic setting can help suspense, but isn’t essential. Suspense works because an audience understands the set-up of a particular situation and also understands what is at stake if that situation goes bad. This is equally true for a huge crowd scene as it is for one man in a room. What a claustrophobic setting does do, though, is really focus the attention on both these things. In a claustrophobic setting there are no distractions from the story. You are totally immersed in it. As if it were the most important story ever told. So the stakes seem even higher. Plus usually, there’s no escape for the characters if things go wrong, which helps too.
MM: What’s the best piece of advice you would offer to a first-time moviemaker about to make their feature debut?
JB: Fight to work with the best actors. And hire a great first assistant director.
MM: Any other projects in the works? Would you like to continue making thrillers, or try your hand at different genres?
JB: I’m currently writing a script I hope to make next. Though I’m not telling anyone anything about it. So you’ll have to wait and see. As for genres, I love thrillers, so I will probably make another thriller at some point, but I intend to work in a variety of different genres as my career progresses. I like watching all different types of films, so want to make all different types. For me it’s all about a compelling story and complex, interesting characters. The genre isn’t important. A fantastic script is a fantastic script, no matter what the genre.