Judge Daryl Loomis often hears voices in his head, but that's because he always forgets about his Bluetooth.
Evil is among us.
It isn't often that a debut film is as complete and well-made as The Disappeared, but this British independent from Johnny Kevorkian really delivers. A rumination on guilt and mental illness under the guise of a ghost story, the film is an excellent display of young talent on both sides of the camera.
Facts of the Case
Matthew Ryan (Harry Treadway, Control) is supposed to be babysitting his little brother, Tom, but he's getting drunk and stoned with his friends instead. He sends the kid to a park to play, promising to come pick him up later but, when he shows up, Tom has disappeared. The police have no leads, and guilt consumes Matthew until he must be hospitalized. When he is released a few months later and tries to sort out what happened, he begins to hear Tom's voice calling to him and sees his face in dreams. Nobody believes him but, whether Tom is alive or dead, Matthew will stop at nothing to find out the truth.
The Disappeared is a hard to pin down. It's a fine film whether you look at it as a supernatural-tinged character drama or an out-and-out horror film, but it's interesting how skillfully director Kevorkian moves between genres. The film starts pretty solid as a character study with the most chilling of scenarios: the kidnapping of a child. The reason the boy was by himself in the park is never in doubt, but Kevorkian spends no time wrapped up in blaming Matthew for it. Instead, he takes Matthew's inherent guilt and extends the story from there, focusing on his attempt to cope with that guilt.
The loss of his brother has taken quite a toll on Matthew's sanity, but even if he can't bring his brother back, he is determined to find out what happened. He first hears Tom's voice while watching old news reports. He's just calling Matthew's name at first, but it quickly escalates into more involved and cryptic messages. At the suggestion of his best friend (Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise), Matthew begins to record himself in the hope of capturing his dead brother's voice. Through this, crazy as he sounds to everyone around him, he finds a path to the truth about Tom's fate.
What begins as a grim character drama takes on a horrific, paranoid tone as the messages increase in intensity and Matthew's mind spirals back toward madness. At the start, we are dealing with a boy, his father, and their grief. Just as we get used to the idea of a sad, effective drama, Kevorkian adds in a few horror elements to put us on edge. Then he adds a few more, and so on, until so much weird stuff has gone down that it's hard to recognize that it once seemed like a gritty character study. The progression feels natural because of consistent direction, a strong screenplay, and some especially great performances.
If his performance of Matthew is any indication, Harry Treadaway is certainly a young actor to watch out for. The character is complex and extremely conflicted, but Treadaway hits all the right notes throughout. His realization about the truth coincides with the escalation of his madness and he gets both sides perfectly. His change from confusion and grief to steeled resolve is utterly believable and compelling. As much as he deserves praise, though, the supporting cast is equally outstanding. Greg Wise (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story), as Matthew's father, portrays a character as conflicted as his son, but one who is a little harder to peg. He shares in the grief over his missing son, but his history of alcoholism and domestic violence that is dealt with sparingly in the script, casts doubt on his role in Tom's disappearance. Wise plays it both ways; shady enough to evoke suspicion, but in an oddly tender way that makes his grief palpable and affecting. Tom Felton, as the most well-known member of the bunch, stands right alongside the others, skillfully portraying the begrudged loyalty that only a best friend can have for his crazy buddy. Felton lends a little much-needed comic relief to the film, though it remains a decidedly grim affair, and adds a level of depth and humanity to Matthew's character and to the film in general. The whole ensemble is fantastic; this world of heightened emotion never feels forced and could hardly be more believable. Small in number but big on talent, this is a very impressive group.
MPI, under the IFC Films label, has done right by The Disappeared with this DVD release. The image looks appropriately dreary, but there's no lack of clarity. Cinematographer Diego Rodriguez (Cobrador: In God We Trust) has created a grainy, pallid blue-grey look for the film that has found an equally effective home in the films of Mike Leigh (Naked) and the Saw franchise. It works great here, adding to the atmosphere and giving the film a dreamy feel. The image transfer is appropriately dirty, given the washed-out look, but the black levels are very deep and the colors look accurate at all times. The sound design is equally as effective as the look, both in its use of surround sound and its musical score. The full spectrum of speakers will get a workout for this film, which often eschews graphic violence for aural shocks. This method isn't effective in every film—I'm a big fan of graphic violence—but it works quite well in The Disappeared. The musical score from Ilan Eshkeri (Ninja Assassin) adds another layer of depth; one of the deepest, really. It's an excellent score that uses the opera tradition of unique themes and instrumentations for each character to great effect. Mild and sweet as Tom's piano theme might be at first, its presence is guaranteed to creep into your head by the end. The surround mix provided is excellent all around, nicely balancing the dialog with the score and sound effects. Consistently clear, sharp, and full, you can't ask for a better surround mix from a film of this level.
While I would have loved a commentary track from Kevorkian, the extras are limited to three short but sweet featurettes and a trailer. In the first, we learn about the background of the story, meet the cast and crew, and discuss with Kevorkian the details of the shoot. The second deals with the post-production aspects of the film, including the editing, sound design, and music. The quality of all these aspects comes through while watching the film and each of the technicians and artists gets a chance to speak on their motivations and impressions of what they did for it. The final piece collects all the people we heard from in the first two to ask about their thoughts on horror in general and some of the specific horror scenes in The Disappeared.
Whether it's a dark drama with horror elements or a horror film with well-drawn characters, The Disappeared can please fans from both sides of the fence. This is a surprisingly strong debut from Johnny Kevorkian. Well made, brilliantly performed, and tense as hell; this is an easy recommendation.
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