Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Disappeared (2008) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Matthew has just been released from hospital. Some time ago his eight year old brother disappeared from a playground, and since then Matthew has not been himself. Sometimes things that seem real to him turn out not to be, or so he's told. He hears voices - things that make no sense. But he wants to try and live a normal life, back with his dad. And he can't help but want to find out what happened to his brother.
One day, Matthew hears his brother's voice on an old video tape, calling out to him. It seems he needs his help. Of course it doesn't make sense, but other events seem to confirm it. He meets a girl who seems to understand, but other people are understandably hostile, and as he struggles to uncover the truth he finds it harder and harder to make sense of the world.
There are a number of problems with The Disappeared. The script is often clunky; the storyline too often lapses into cliche. But it's elevated by an outstanding central performance from Harry Treadaway. His tortured yet stubbornly ordinary Matthew recalls Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko and Ralph Fiennes in Spider, but is grittier than either. Whilst Donnie, for all his difficulties, lived a fairly comfortable middle class existence, Matthew has to deal with his problems on a run-down housing estate where he's assaulted because he's "that guy whose brother went missing", not despite it. His father, nursing a broken heart, doesn't know how to cope with him so ends up getting angry. Even the girl he likes is covered in bruises. Like many youths in that situation, he shuns offers of education, hanging around with friends on street corners, smoking joints and drinking. "It would drive you mad sitting in that flat all day," says his friend.
Sullen, sometimes incoherent, yet complex and with a fierce intellect battling through his confusion, Matthew is a character whom it's surprisingly easy to empathise with, so the viewer quickly gets drawn into his way of seeing things. Before long, it's difficult to be certain of anything the film presents us with, and those cliches start to work in its favour - only slowly do we understand that Matthew himself is seeking them out, latching onto coincidences and drawing wild conclusions. But when another child goes missing, it's clear that there really is something bigger going on. With no-one else to turn to, can Matthew fight off his own demons and figure it out before it's too late?
There's something decidedly Hitchcockian about this premise, but the style of the film is utterly different, all murky interiors suggestive of Matthew's own internal state. Though nothing is glimpsed clearly, and some scenes take place in almost complete darkness, we see enough to understand what Matthew does, and we are properly blindsided by changes of pace. It's an intensely intimate piece of work and this serves to put the real horrors at its centre in proper perspective. Is Matthew's brother communicating with him from beyond the grave? In a way, it doesn't matter. Young people go missing, and suffer from mental illness, all the time. Cinema rarely deals with this head on, and Treadaway's performance is one in a million.Reviewed on: 29 May 2009