Film review: The Disappeared (2008), directed by Johnny Kevorkian
Admittedly, if I find films with certain actors whose films I have reviewed before, I tend to watch them in order to get the actor tag count up, so when I discovered British indie film The Disappeared and saw “Tom Felton” in the cast list, I thought “+1!” rather than “OMG Draco Malfoy I have to see this!!!” or anything like that.
The film begins with teenager Matthew Ryan (Harry Treadaway) being released from hospital. His younger brother Tom (Lewis Lemperuer Palmer) went missing once when their father (Greg Wise, whom you might recall from Sense and Sensibility ’95) was at a work do while Matthew had a birthday party in the apartment. Tom went to go down to the playground, and when Matthew came to pick him up much later, Tom was gone.
When looking at a tape of a press conference where the tearful father appeals to the public for information, Matthew hears Tom’s voice calling out to him. When reluctantly mentioning this to best friend Simon (Tom Felton), Simon suggests electronic voice phenomenon (see also: White Noise), and maybe Matthew should try leaving a tape recorder running and see if it picks up anything, but the boys fall out, and when Simon’s sister Sophie (Georgia Groome) also goes missing, it doesn’t get better.
Well, at least Matthew has the next door neighbour’s girl Amy (Ros Leeming) to keep him sane, as well as Adrian Ballan (Alex Jennings), a church worker. Because hearing people’s voices is never seen as a good thing …
The thing that really confused me about this film is that the description just mentioned something about a boy feeling terribly guilty over his brother’s disappearance, and I thought “British indie film with Tom Felton, sure, I’ll go with that”, not really knowing much about it. So where’s the confusion? I simply wasn’t sure if this was meant to be a crime thriller about an 8-year-old boy gone missing, a horror story about ghosts and sinister beings or just a sad drama about a teenage boy with some form of schizophrenia, possibly brought on or made worse by his brother’s disappearance, and a father who doesn’t know how to cope.
On the other hand, maybe it’s deliberately ambiguous.
It’s not a crime thriller, though. There’s no police investigation you follow or anything, and if Matthew suffers from an actual mental illness rather than just stress and guilt over his missing brother … well, that’s never really explained. It could be either. His father, who has some anger management issues, clearly can’t cope with him, particularly not with his other son missing. Very good performance by Greg Wise there, I have to say. He’s marvellous.
So, is it a social drama or a horror story? Both. It’s set on a dreary housing estate somewhere in London (?), where conditions are poor and the whole film has been overlaid with a very depressing colour scheme to fully drive that point home. Amy next door is physically abused by her father. This is reality for too many people.
However … it’s also most definitely a horror story. Electronic voice phenomena, apparitions, a dark figure of evil looming … it’s dreadfully fascinating, actually. There was one thing I thought was blatantly obvious, but I won’t say what it is, because that’s a big spoiler. (A clue, though: at one point, you can see graffiti on a wall when Matthew is walking by the docks. Read what it says. Now why would that be there, if it wasn’t for—well, you know.) I started to have sneaking suspicions about something, and then looked for clues to support it, and yup, there were plenty. When the big reveal came along, I was only surprised Matthew himself hadn’t realised it a lot sooner.
So yeah, while being gritty social drama it’s also an effective story about spirits, both good and evil, leading up to a creepy and violent conclusion. The Disappeared is not the sort of film that would normally appeal to me, because the general tone is way too depressing, but on the other hand, I enjoyed the acting and the storytelling, and I do love a good haunting done properly.
This actually resembles something that could actually happen in real life – well, evil creature aside – and I like that in a ghost story. I also like how close it was to mental illness, walking a very fine line between ghost story and “it’s all in Matthew’s head”. Fairly realistic hauntings and psychological profiling – yay!
And add to that Greg Wise, although much preferred in a cravat rather than denim if he’s to sport those kind of sideburns, and an incredible Tom Felton, who is acting so naturally it didn’t even feel like acting. Brilliant. Of course, Harry Treadaway’s performance was also great, because after all, he’s the one who has to balance mental illness and being haunted!
Overall, I think I might have talked myself into giving it a 4 out of 5 swing sets here.