We talk to J Blakeson, the director of The Disappearance of Alice Creed, about his directorial debut and his inspiration.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed
Kaleem Aftab talks to J Blakeson, the director of The Disappearance of Alice Creed, about his directorial debut and his inspiration
It takes some imagination to get films set in a single location to work. Alfred Hitchcock was the master at the one-location movie - Rear Window and Rope remain two of the best movies ever made - and the first-time director J Blakeson manages to pull off a similar trick in The Disappearance of Alice Creed.
The action all takes place in a house on the Isle of Man. Two men are fortifying the house. The older man, Vic, played by Eddie Marsan (Happy Go-Lucky) is thorough and precise, but also a ticking time-bomb. It's obvious from the way that his apprentice, Danny, played by Martin Compston (Sweet Sixteen), is tetchy and nervous that Vic is a menace. After a five-minute silent montage of men at work, the duo abduct Alice Creed (the Bond girl Gemma Arterton), a young lady from a well-to-do family.
The pair make a £2 million (Dh12m) ransom demand to Alice's father. Nothing, however, is quite what it seems and as the action unfolds, a series of twists and turns ensure that Blakeson's movie avoids genre clichés and keeps the audience on the edge of its seat. What's also intriguing is the willingness to show events usually kept out of thrillers, such as eating dinner and going to the loo. It's a remarkable debut from Blakeson, who previously had written the screenplay for The Descent 2.
The director says: "I studied film at university and so I got to watch everything. I've never been a raging fan of Alfred Hitchcock, I was more a fan of David Lynch and the Coen brothers. What I really admire of Hitchcock is his ability to bring mundane moments to the picture. I think it was very fun the way he did things and let moments play out."
The mundane moments were also important to the horror, according to the director: "You never see people eat and sleep in movies and we all know that happens every day. You can make people seem scarier if they seem genuine. The pair come up with a horrible plan and then you see them sit down and have a cup of tea. There is nothing more scary than the man you know."
Blakeson grew up in Yorkshire, and embarked on his first filmmaking experience at 19, when he used money he earned from an after-school job at a supermarket to make a short film. Fearing there was no film industry in Yorkshire, he moved to London. He started off couch-surfing before earning money scriptwriting, but it took 10 years before he got to direct one of his own scripts.
Such patience and dedication is also apparent in Alice Creed. "In the first 10 minutes, I don't really tell you much of what they are doing," he says. "As an audience, you make assumptions as to who they are and why they are doing something and that comes from audiences being very cine-literate. These guys are just cold and impersonal and you don't know if what they are doing is personal or not, until later. I just wanted my characters to be very efficient and very scary and I hate it when I watch films and the bad guys are undone because they do something stupid."
Blakeson cast three actors on the upwards curve in their career. Of the final choice, the director says: "We were restricted by who was available when we were going to shoot and that helped shape the list. The casting director had Gemma on top of her list, who she knew since drama school, and I'd only seen her in the Bond film and wasn't utterly convinced, but then Gemma came in to read and immediately I knew she was perfect for the role because she is such a good actor. The producer knew Eddie Marsan and he liked the script. For the third role we couldn't find the right person, even two weeks before the film we didn't have someone on and then we managed to cast Martin."
Blakeson says Marsan provided some excellent advice on how to develop nasty, frightening characters. "Marsan, who has played a number of bad guys, says the trick to playing a bad guy is that they don't think they're doing something wrong. Indeed, they think they are the good guy. That's what makes them scary: they are not being bad because they think it's fun, but they are doing it because they think they have good reason."
His attention to detail is obvious, right down to the amount of the ransom.
"I figured out how much money they could fit into two fairly large bags filled with £50 notes. The good thing about the internet these days is that you can type 'how much does two million pounds weigh?' and it comes up with a figure."
Sometimes, the most effective ideas are the simplest.