FrightFest remains the highlight of the horror calendar for many genre fans in the UK, offering the opportunity to not only see some of the hottest films in horror but also several chillers that are unlikely ever to legally see the light of day in this country. The Disappeared, a low-budget British supernatural horror with a largely unknown cast and rookie director, could well have fallen into the latter category, so it’s a delight to see the film receive an admittedly limited theatrical release almost a year after it debuted at the festival.
Director Johnny Kervorkian will not be a name overly familiar to cinema-goers, but The Disappeared, his first fully-fledged feature film, has every chance of putting his name on the map. It’s a ghost story at heart and, while not entirely original - The Sixth Sense is the most obvious comparison - Kervokian shows plenty of talent for building a creeping sense of terror and delivering genuinely heart-in-your-mouth shocks.
The film is set in the a grey, crumbling London council estate, where the teenage Matthew is racked by guilt following the disappearance of his younger brother Tom, who he was supposed to be babysitting but neglected to party with his friends instead. After a failed suicide attempt, Matthew’s already strained relationship with his father is put under even more pressure when he starts hearing his brother’s pained voice calling out to him. When his best friend’s young sister goes missing, Matthew is beset by horrifying visions and ghostly visitations leading him to both her whereabouts and the shocking revelation of her kidnapper’s true identity.
Harry Potter’s Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) is probably the best-known name in the cast, but it’s Harry Treadaway who puts in the most impressive performance as the tortured, sullen and beleaguered Matthew. Starring in almost every scene, the captivating young actor shows he is more than up to the task of shouldering the responsibility of being a lead and is clearly someone to watch in the future - he’s soon to appear (albeit in a supporting role) in Oscar-winner Andrea Arnold’s sophomore feature Fish Tank, which was officially selected for competition at this year’s Cannes and will be playing at the forthcoming Edinburgh Film Festival.
Not all of the acting in The Disappeared is quite as good - in our experience London’s council estates are not quite so densely populated with such well-spoken, stage school kids - and the story occasionally slips into cliché, unwisely taking a step into the world of the satanic at the end. However, with Treadaway’s standout central performance coupled with Kervorkian’s directorial flair, The Disappeared offers a tense and absorbing experience that favours the kind of foreboding atmosphere of dread found in Hammer’s best supernatural thrillers of yore over the extreme violence and blood-splattering gore of more recent Brit genre fare.
There will be a Q&A with the director and cast after screenings at the ICA Cinema on 17 and 22 June.