After gaining some positive notices for his previous films, the no budget shocker Scarred (2004), documentary Historical Disasters: Black Christmas (2008) and shorts Cold Blood (2007) and Sacrifice (2009),independent British director Steve Looker has graduated to a production with a more polished finish and recognizable cast in the hostage thriller Desperate Measures. Written by Chris Green, whose next screenplay credit is for the Stephen Graham and Maxine Peake starring Best Laid Plans (2011), Desperate Measures is a tightly directed piece that exploits a small cast, one main location and an incrementally unfolding narrative to construct an intriguing if not gripping film. Whilst not an unqualified success Looker’s film contains committed performances by the three leads, and some impressively tense sequences, even if the (anti) climactic big reveal is somewhat underwhelming, undermining much of the mysterious build up.
The pared back plot, which evokes J Blakeson’s recent underrated British crime thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009), sees feckless bad boy and serial narcotics abuser Ross (Stephen Lord) abducted from a nightclub by unseen assailants whilst in a semi-conscious, drug induced stupor. After coming to in a sparsely furnished, locked, bare stone walled room Ross is understandably disoriented, with no clue as to who would kidnap him or why. The strength of Green’s screenplay is in keeping the audience as much in the dark as its anti-hero lead protagonist. The two kidnappers, vicious, unpredictable ex-army vet Jack (Ricci Harnett) and the older, more restrained but equally tough George (Maxton G. Beesley), give very little away as they first put the helpless, incarcerated addict through a harsh detox regime before relating to him the militaristic rules by which he must live during his ‘stay’ at the ad hoc ‘boot camp’. Ross’ ‘cell’ is revealed to be one room in an isolated farmhouse, surrounded by nothing but countryside on all sides. With no mobile, no vehicle and, crucially, no one looking for him (due to his self destructive lifestyle and alienating attitude shown in brief flashback sequences), escape or rescue from his bizarre situation isn’t a viable option. Subjected to a harsh fitness programme, a controlled diet and the occasional beating for bad behaviour Ross knows he is being trained for something, he just doesn’t know what it is. After becoming convinced that his father will eventually look for him his hopes are cruelly dashed in one of the rug pulling sequences that punctuate this low key thriller .
As Ross and Jack’s increasingly fractious captive/jailer relationship threatens to boil over and disrupt the aim of Jack and George’s plans for their prisoner, and George reveals hitherto unseen vulnerabilities Desperate Measures unfortunately begins to lose its way. The simple yet effective set up is not really built on and though the ending isn’t predictable it just left me with a feeling of ‘is that it’? Ross’ flashbacks to his pre-kidnap existence hold the key to the eventual explanation for Jack and George’s operation to radically alter his life but it’s a damp squib, morality tale denouement that fails to satisfy. Whereas The Disappearance of Alice Creed confidently followed through on its similar premise with its plot twists and narrative inventiveness Desperate Measures falters in the moments where it should deliver the goods, making for an ultimately disappointing watch. The sporadic moments in which it threatens to become truly engaging lack the all important killer punch and the smart use of a limited budget and solid performances can’t mask the ho-hum climax that nullifies the promising set up.