J Blakeson’s feature debut is a taut, low-budget British thriller about two men, Danny and Vic, who kidnap a young woman named Alice. As they wait for the ransom, locked together in a small flat, tension mounts and details emerge about who they are. The relationship between the three characters develops in unexpected directions as they all try to manipulate the situation to their advantage. Below, Pamela Jahn and Virginie Sélavy discuss the film and what it shows about current British filmmaking.
Pamela Jahn: What I liked about the film is that, for what it was, a hostage story, it was pretty tight and well performed. But there were some twists that were beyond plausibility, and I thought it started more strongly than it played out in the end.
Virginie Sélavy: The way that some of the revelations about the characters were brought on showed that the plot was weak. They just felt like a cop-out, like a way out of the plot that Blakeson had built. They weren’t really justified in any way and were quite unconvincing as a result.
PJ: The opening scenes where Danny and Vic set up the kidnapping and take Alice to the flat were really tense and really good. You don’t know the motivations behind Danny’s weird behaviour at first.
VS: That’s true, the beginning is excellent because it’s very sparse, it doesn’t explain anything. The two men are very purposeful and they are brutal without hurting her, which is very unsettling and very effective. You don’t quite understand what’s going on.
PJ: But then I found the first twist laughable. Alice’s reaction wasn’t worked out properly.
VS: I expected the film to be cleverer, but in the end what you have is yet another film that focuses on a female victim who is stripped naked and humiliated, but is not smart enough to get herself out of the situation. Although she is constantly trying things, she doesn’t make anything happen - everything happens outside of her control. That annoyed me, and I know this is partly to do with my own expectations, but I don’t think you can have just another female victim film without having a little bit of a twist, so that she’s more than that.
PJ: Yes, I totally agree, but given the fact that she is under so much pressure I think that at least it’s realistic. I thought her character was convincing in the way that she tries to get out of her situation.
VS: But did you think that she was an interesting female character?
VS: That’s my point. Danny is probably the most interesting character because he’s manipulative and complex and you can’t quite figure him out, whereas she just reacts to situations. She’s a very passive type of character. I expected more of a battle of wits, which I don’t think you really get.
PJ: What annoyed me more was that it became predictable, that I could actually foresee the end. In terms of the characters, I thought what was interesting is that Danny seems weak at the beginning and he turns out to be quite strong. And even though I didn’t have as much of a problem with Alice as you, I think it’s a bit of a shame that Blakeson did not put more effort into creating her character. He does concentrate on the two guys and their relationship a lot more, but she’s just the victim, she doesn’t have to be anything other than that.
VS: I think the other problem in the film is the way information is revealed.
PJ: It’s quite clumsy.
VS: Yes. I always remember what Hitchcock said about suspense and surprise, and in this film Blakeson went for surprise. If he had given his audience more information about the characters, he would have been able to create much more effective tension by making the audience aware of what is being played out in front of them. That said, the relationship between the two men is better dealt with, there is a more interesting power struggle between them.
PJ: Absolutely. That’s because Blakeson keeps things simple - one location, three characters - it’s a different sort of tension that keeps the film together and makes it enjoyable.
VS: I did find it enjoyable in spite of my reservations. I think for a first feature film with a very low budget, they did well. The kidnapping set-up was a good idea to justify the one location, which is so important to keep the budget down. But the problem I have with it, and in that respect it made me think of Exam, which is also a one-room low-budget British thriller, is that these new directors try to make films that they can sell, and as a result I think that there is something a bit formulaic about them. Ultimately, they are fairly empty films because they don’t really have much to say. They seem to make a film for the sake of it, rather than because they have something to say or show. But maybe this is a step for those first-time directors towards making the film they really want to make - I hope so.
PJ: One of the reasons for this might have to do with the funding. They have to show that they can make a film within a tiny budget that looks good and is saleable and not too controversial.
VS: Yes, the funding is the problem. Of course you have to be realistic when you make your first film, but you have to have a story to tell, not just a narrative device that is a pretext to make a film.
PJ: They may not be empty, but they’re flat. A lot of these films pretend to be interesting but they’re not thought through properly. In both films, there are probably one or two twists too many, which keep the audience going, but are too obvious.
VS: You could have done something more interesting with the power games in this scenario, but Blakeson doesn’t really explore that deeply enough. The film doesn’t tell you anything of substance about the dynamics of power in this triangle, because of all those twists.
PJ: In terms of the performances, I thought Eddie Marsan was the best one. He’s totally convincing as Vic, the older kidnapper, and I can take all the plot twists that involve him because of his performance. I think the performances carry the plot to a certain extent. Whenever the plot weakens, there is still a fantastic quality to the acting and it keeps you interested to the end.
Pamela Jahn and Virginie Sélavy