Sunday, January 29, 2012

Vamp or Not? The Disappeared

I don’t know how The Disappeared ended up on my radar, but end up it did and this ‘Vamp or Not?’ may seem a little forced and yet I think, despite some areas of reading in, examining this film was worth it. It was released in 2008 and I understand that director Johnny Kevorkian specifically stated that the aspect that we will examine was deliberately kept vague so that the audience could make their own mind up.

However it should be noted that this is, primarily, a ghost story and a good one at that. Set in the seedy underbelly of council estate London, Kevorkian creates a dour atmosphere that suits the film, with muted colours and what feels like a grey sky permanently hanging over main character Matthew Ryan (Harry Treadaway).

The film begins looking at Matt, as he is known, sat in a waiting room whilst we hear his father, Jake (Greg Wise), talking to a doctor – asking whether it is really wise to let him home. The doctor says that they have done all they can and says that his treatment will continue via out-patients and through his social worker. Matt is being released from hospital having received psychiatric care. Matt, it has to be said, is played with great skill by Treadaway who gives a marvellous physical performance throughout.

Harry Treadaway as Matt
They get home and Jake has to go out, saying he will bring fish and chips home and giving Matt his key to the flat. Matt goes to his room; there are two beds and a few scattered children’s toys. We flashback to a party Matt threw for his birthday whilst Jake was out. Matt and his friends were getting drunk and stoned when his twelve year old brother, Tom (Lewis Lemperuer Palmer), came in and said he was bored sitting in Dad’s room and went to the estate’s playground. Matt snaps out of the memory and picks out a box with tapes and press cuttings concerning his brother’s abduction from the playground.

TV appeal
He plays a video of a TV reconstruction and an appeal by his father, to the abductor, begging for Tom’s safe return. As the newscaster mentions Matt’s name he also hears Tom call him. He plays it back twice more, the same thing happening both times. When his father comes home he tries to play him the tape but Jake punches a glass cabinet door at the crucial point, overwhelmed by the frustrated anger that the tape has provoked and scared that his remaining son is still unwell. There is a knock on the door and it is social worker Adrian Ballan (Alex Jennings), who happened to be passing.

Ros Leeming as Amy
The next day Matt awakens from a dream of being buried alive and we see the scars on his wrists. His dad throws the tapes and cuttings out, but Matt retrieves the appropriate video – disturbing a crow, which the viewer begins to notice as a recurring creature. Matt doesn’t hear Tom this time, possibly because of the sound of arguing coming from next door. He goes out and meets a young woman, Amy (Ros Leeming), who moved next door when he was in hospital (or so he figures). Later he sees her at a quayside but she doesn’t hear his calls and when he gets to where she was, she has gone. He also sees, in a shop window, images of missing children shown on a TV and then a reflection in the window of Tom stood behind him. When he turns no-one is there and then a gang of kids on push-bikes ride past him, making him jump back.

His friend Simon (Tom Felton) clearly doesn’t believe Matt when he tells him about the tape but does mention seeing a TV programme about recordings of the dead captured on tape (evp). Simon also tells him that a reporter tried to tie his dad into the disappearance, whilst Matt was in hospital. Matt takes an old tape deck to the playground and talks to Tom, but is attacked by a gang of kids (who were on the bikes earlier) who viciously beat him and smash the recorder. He is found by Amy. When he listens to the tape he hears Tom say that it is really dark and he is scared…

cold ghostly breath
And that is about as far as I want to go on the blow by blow as so far not Vamp and we do need to look at that aspect. However I can say that Matt starts seeing more and more, with Tom (and other ghosts) making their presence known, and is eventually led to find the killer. The twist at the end of the film is, in reality, no twist at all, as you’ll guess it early on – Amy is a ghost too. However, to discuss the ‘Vamp or Not?’ properly I need to spoil the identity of the child abductor – so if you don’t want to know, turn away now…

Alex Jennings as Ballan
It is social worker Ballan, who works from the church – and his position as a social worker seems odd as he seems more tied to the church than the council (who are never mentioned). It seems more he is just able to insinuate into people’s lives. So why suggest he is a vampire, as we see nothing overtly vampiric? Firstly – and this is pure supposition – the gang of boys I’ve mentioned reminded me of the Lost Boys. This is both in their riding around (on bicycles not motorbikes) and them being chased off by Ballan in a moment that was reminiscent of Max and the Lost Boys – after which he tells Matt that they seemed out for blood that night. Matt asks him, as he stopped them hassling a young boy hence them chasing him, whether they might have anything to do with the abduction and Ballan says he doesn’t know, but seems shocked by the question he then adds, “I do know that anything is possible these days, when people have lost their beliefs and their faith… what’s left?” There also seems a link put between the gang and the crows (subtle but it did seem that the crows and the gang were connected).

symbol burns
Matt comes across a symbol, an inverted cross, and ties it to a man called Edward (Jefferson Hall) who is a permanent resident in the psychiatric wing of the hospital. Matt speaks to him and then – Matt having been removed from the room by a nurse – we see a shadow move over Edward and him kill himself. The symbol marks an entrance into Ballan’s lair below the church, when he is defeated the symbol burns. Getting back to the shadow and we saw that same shadow pass by the door of a psychic, Shelley (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Matt goes to see. As it passes the whole flat goes dark. As it turns out, Shelley is dead and the flat a burnt out shell – but Matt sees the flat, her and her daughter (Tyler Anthony) as they were and is unaware of their ghostly nature at the point.

neck marks
Later he goes back to the flat to hide (from a psychiatric orderly after him to drag him back to hospital) and he sees what happened to Shelley and her daughter. He sees the daughter run in crying, there are two lines of blood at her neck – from a two puncture bite or just scratches we can’t really tell. We see the shadow move in (and Matt closes his eyes rather than see who it is, for some reason) but Shelley sees the person who enters. The daughter cries more and Shelley runs with her to a bedroom, locking the door. The fire was deliberate, they were burned to death; Matt discovers that Shelley scratched the name Ballan into a floorboard.

old photo
Whilst he is certainly a killer, the evidence for vampirism, so far, is at best circumstantial – bar the possible bites. I should mention that, as Matt goes through a store area of the church to find Ballan’s lair we see a Victorian looking picture of Ballan, suggesting he might be immortal. When we hear that the police, after Matt brains Ballan over and over again with a rock, found no trace of the imposter but did find the real Ballan – who had been dead for some amount of time – we wonder was the body they found the fresh kill, rotted on death, or was the Ballan we saw really an imposter? In that case how did he fool every one and how did he get up after having his skull repeatedly smashed? One answer, to either possibility, might be that he was a vampire.

Alucard's grave
The director does leave us with one interesting clue. Matt is being chased by the gang and he manages to get to the churchyard and hide. It is in the scene where Ballan intervenes and sends the gang away. However Matt’s hiding place, before the intervention, is behind a gravestone. If you look carefully (and it might not be too clear in the screenshot) the name on the stone is Angus Alucard. Yes, Dracula backwards! Methinks that might have been a big hint and at that point I am going vamp, though I admit some points might be stretched – the supposed immortality, the might-be-bite marks and the reference to Alucard seal the deal.

The film, by the way, I thought was well worth a watch and is a good modern ghost story beyond anything else. The imdb page is here.

1 comment:

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Having just watched this again, we see, at one point, Ballan reflected in the baptismal font of the church and his eyes glow red for a brief moment.