J Blakeson brought his directorial debut, “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” starring Gemma Arterton, to the Tribeca Film Festival for its U.S. premiere on Saturday. It's a taut, suspenseful crime thriller in the fine British tradition about a young woman taken for ransom by two men, one of whom turns out to be someone she knows very well.
Though Blakeson eventually secured financing to fully realize his vision, much of what makes the film so effective was the result of financial constraints. PopcornBiz sat down with Blakeson earlier in the day to talk about his process and his country’s love of criminals.
“I knew it was going to be three people, the idea was sort of born out of necessity. I’d come close to directing my debut feature before… we got a blinking green light and that light sort of exploded. I got quite frustrated that I wasn’t getting any closer to being a director, I was a screenwriter at the time.
“I had made a couple of low-budget short films, I thought, ‘Well I can make them for under a thousand pounds for 10 minutes. I know good actors, I’ve got an apartment, I could probably buy a van on eBay and burn it,’” he says with a laugh. “If I set it in woods and deserted wastelands and empty car parks, then I don’t even have to get permits, really. I certainly don’t need extras... I could probably shoot in a hardware store for a day – I had shot in a hardware store before, for one of my short films – so I knew I could do that.
“And so it was sort of based on the fact that if I had to make it on my credit cards for 40,000 pounds, I was prepared to do it. And so the script was written with that in mind, and so keeping it to three characters and keeping it to locations I knew I could probably film in on evenings and weekends for two years.
“Genre films are fun and they’re about the story and they’ve the expectations you can play with. When you haven’t got CGI and you haven’t got a lot of anything else, you need to have the story working hard. And so a kidnap seemed like a good thriller, because the dynamic between a kidnapper and his victims is very different from most other crimes – it’s quite intimate, because they almost become like a parent or a nurse… but yeah, the three characters was just to keep the budget down.”
Like most of the crime films that come out of Britain, “Alice Creed” is told from the perspective of the criminals. Not a single police officer is seen nor heard. Asked why it is that the Brits tend to focus on the bad guys, while American cinema is more often about the good guys, Blakeson appears to zero right in on the answer.
“I think the big difference is your cops are cooler than ours. Our cops don’t have guns, mostly. We don’t have SWAT teams… we have people drinking a lot of tea and doing IT work. You don’t really have that iconic detective story – it’s more the bobby on the beat.”
“But we’ve always had criminals, we’ve always had gangsters, we’ve always had gangs. And I think because we’ve always been interested in the seedier side of life, from Shakespeare to Dickens…. It’s always about the grubby underside. Heroism is actually quite boring. ‘Henry V’ is a great play, but I think ‘Henry IV, part II’ is a more interesting play, because that’s when he’s off being bad.”
As Blakeson notes of British cop movies, even the exception proves the rule.
“’Hot Fuzz’ is the only kind of (British) police film that tries to do something different, but even that is taking the piss out of the fact the British police are sort of crap," he said. "I mean, they do their job very well, but they’ve got the silly helmet, and their job is mostly walking around telling kids, ‘Ay – stop that… Does your mum know where you are?’”
“I was out the other day, this cop on a mountain bike stopped by these teenage girls and said, ‘I hope you’re not smoking.’ That’s how cinematic they are."
“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is playing at the Tribeca Film Festival April 25 & 26, before its limited release in June