Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Harry Treadaway, Greg Wise, Ros Leeming, Alex Jennings, Tom Felton
Directed by Johnny Kevorkian
Distributed by IFC Films
While IFC Films may be garnering attention from horror fans mostly due to its acquisition of headline-grabbing, controversial fare like Antichrist, The Human Centipede, and The Killer Inside Me, the company should also be commended for giving a home to smaller, lesser known films like the subject of this review, The Disappeared. Otherwise I might not have ever uncovered this spooky gem that could very well end up being included on my end of the year “best of” list.
The Disappeared opens with Matthew Ryan (Treadaway) returning home after spending two weeks in a mental hospital following the disappearance of his eight-year-old little brother, Tom. Matt had been tasked with keeping an eye on Tom by their father, Jake (Wise), but it was the older boy’s birthday and he was partying with his friends. Letting Tom go off to the park by himself seemed harmless enough, and Jake should have been home soon anyway. Needless to say, both men are wracked with guilt, further straining their already volatile relationship. Mom is out of the picture, having left so many years ago that Tom had no memory of her at all, and Matt’s is fuzzy at best.
Readjusting to life in the London housing project the Ryans call home is a shaky proposition for Matt. He’s going through a bit of withdrawal from the myriad of medications he was given in the institution, and Jake continues to isolate himself from his son by drinking heavily and avoiding all mention of what happened to Tom. Things only become worse for Matthew as he begins seeing visions of Tom and hearing him call out his name. Neither he nor the viewer is sure if it’s real or just his imagination … and remorse. His friend Simon (Felton) tries to help by encouraging him to record Tom’s voice, but he doesn’t really believe in what Matt’s going through. His only solace is the pretty new neighbor girl, Amy (Leeming), but she’s got problems of her own what with an abusive father who keeps her on a tight leash.
As Matt’s hallucinations and nightmares increase and he becomes more and more desperate to solve the mystery of his brother’s abduction, various outside forces align to equally help and hinder him. Amy recommends that he consult a local medium, who tells him that ghosts and evil are all around them. A nosy reporter digs into the Ryans’ past, dredging up dirt on Jake that causes many in the community, including Matt, to begin suspecting him of the crime. The local gang of hooligans harasses Matt at every turn. And the people who should be doing the most to help him — his dad, his doctor, and his case worker, Mr. Ballan (Jennings) — all have their own diversions. By the time another child with ties to the Ryan family is kidnapped, events begin spiraling out of control until Matt finally realizes who is behind the criminal and immoral deeds befouling his neighborhood and rashly acts to ensure justice is done.
Nothing that transpires in The Disappeared reinvents the wheel or is wholly unpredictable, but from the opening moments director and co-writer (with Neil Murphy) Johnny Kevorkian sets a tone and a mood that permeate the proceedings with emotion and empathy for the players, especially Matt. He understands what too many contemporary horror filmmakers have forgotten: The scares must be secondary to the story. Kevorkian takes a good long while setting up the situation, letting the audience get to know his characters, before delving into the supernatural elements of The Disappeared. But when he does, he doesn’t hold back. His appreciation of and respect for the genre are obvious, yet not in some raging fanboy manner. Instead he shows restraint and maturity in how he approaches the subject matter. Yes, the main character is a teen-age boy, but there’s nothing particularly “hot” or trendy about him. Lucky for us, the setting here is England, not the good old US of A, and Kevorkian apparently never got the memo from Hollywood that all teens (and the rest of his cast for that matter) must be radiantly beautiful, even if they are living in the slummy part of town.
What is stunning about The Disappeared, however, is its technical side. The cinematography and camera work (a large percentage of which is hand-held, ensuring intimacy) are in the able hands of Diego Rodriguez; and the music composer Felix Erskine and his team have created goes a long way toward perfecting the atmosphere. The sound design, too, plays a large part in the film’s success, a few unnecessarily loud and jarring jump scares notwithstanding. But the true shining star is its lead, Harry Treadaway. His performance never feels false or forced, and his interactions with Greg Wise in particular carry a real weight and authenticity you don’t find in a lot of films, horror or otherwise. We all know men like Wise’s Jake who feel deeply but are simply incapable of expressing themselves, and the way he and Treadaway dance around issues is poignantly painful to watch. I’ve seen a few comments that the presence of Tom Felton (whom most will know as Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series) is a distraction, and that may be the case for those who follow the franchise religiously, but for me, someone who stopped watching after the first couple of entries, he came across as just any other actor plying his trade in an indie flick.
As for the special features to be found on the disc, we get two featurettes, one labeled “Production” (16 minutes) and the other “Post-Production” (13-1/2 minutes). Each is informative and entertaining with the former focusing on the cast and director and the latter on Kevorkian and his crew: editor, co-writer, director of photography, effects coordinator, and composer. “Post-Production” does an exceptionally fine job of showing how all these disparate people came together to make The Disappeared both a moving and effectively creepy experience. And interestingly enough, they all pick the same horror film as their favorite (can you guess which one it is?). The final extra, “Anatomy of Horror”, has an 8-minute runtime and concentrates on the scary elements of the storyline. It’s a rare treat to hear filmmakers use the “h” word used with such reckless abandon!
If you’re the type of person who enjoys a healthy helping of tragedy tinged with humanity integrated into your horror menu, then you’ll surely want to give The Disappeared a chance. The journey Kevorkian and Murphy have laid out is richly rewarding with just enough genuine chills to keep it from feeling fake or overly sentimental.
4 out of 5
3 out of 5
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