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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 01.03.09] movie review horror thriller mystery

Year: 2008
DVD Release date: January 6th, 2009
Directors: Rob Schmidt
Writers: Tom Malloy
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Amazon: link
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Director Rob Schmidt's first claim to horror fame was an effective little shocker called Wrong Turn (which you would be forgiven for missing but encouraged to see if your Netflix queue starts running low or something). Released three years before Alexandre Aja's brilliant remake of The Hills Have Eyes, it's a surprisingly suspenseful and equally brutal addition to the backwoods cannibal genre - fast paced and completely blood drunk. So, you can imagine my surprise when I viewed Schmidt's latest film, The Alphabet Killer, and discovered that it is a decidedly more sober and methodical grown up mystery than a shock a minute horror film.

The Alphabet Killer takes the form of a "supernatural thriller," so it spends a lot of time straddling the fence between watered down J-horror and a straight up cop drama. Creepy looking ghosts of victims past pop up now and again to both haunt and help the lead investigator (played by Eliza Dushku) but unfortunately, even with this bit of added macabre, the film isn't quite unique enough in either category to be all that engrossing - at times I even found it a bit dull.

While I watched the film I found myself wondering if, what with hundreds of well produced murder mysteries being broadcast into homes monthly through television shows like CSI, Law and Order, Medium etc. etc. etc., it would be a studio risk to tackle a classic who-done-it for release on the big screen anymore. I mean, you'd have to really bring something fresh to the table to get average viewers excited right?

In this respect, I also found myself comparing The Alphabet Killer to David Fincher's own serial killer flick, Zodiac. In my opinion, Fincher did right by going The Godfather route and turning it into a drawn out procedural epic that spanned years and which reveled in the mythology of "the American Serial Killer." He understood how easily we're all drawn into the exploits of infamous whack jobs, and how we love to shudder at the fact that our law enforcement is hardly perfect and that they're probably still out there. In this sense, the yet unsolved real life case of "The Alphabet Killer" is indeed prime material for a twisted feature film. The problem is, Schmidt really only captures the grander story on a surface level so you don't get a feeling of the case's scope or significance on a deeper cultural level.

Of course, all this artsy talk of cultural stuff probably doesn't matter anyway because it's pretty obvious that Schmidt decided to make The Alphabet Killer into more of a character piece, and in this respect it often succeeds. Eliza Dushku plays Megan Paige, the case's lead investigator, who has becomes mentally unhinged due to her obsession with solving it. It's great to see Dushku outgrowing her more adolescent films and she handles the unstable character with great, though twitchy, dignity. And yes, you see her naked people. I swear that's the only thing reviewers seem to be talking about... but wait, I guess I just did the same thing. Other great actors like Michael Ironside, Timothy Hutton, and Bill Moseley round out the ensemble cast (though I could have used more Ironside. Man that guy can chew scenes!).

The film supposedly takes place in 80s New York (Rochester to be exact), but it feels pretty contemporary and not like a period piece. It's definitely got a great look that often reminded me of the more textured crime dramas of the 70s - lots of shooting in real locations instead of studio sets which I always like.

The Alphabet Killer is a decent enough character driven indie mystery but really doesn't add much at all to the horror genre. If you like mysteries, or are just one of the many throngs of people obsessed with Eliza Dushku, I'd certainly recommend you see the film. If you don't fall into either of those categories then no need to warm up the car and drive to the video store just yet. Maybe it'll turn up on tv one night where you'll probably appreciate it more.

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trogen (13 years ago) Reply

Cool review, I happened to watch this over the weekend and would have given it a slightly higher 7/10
I found it entertaining, however that was probably because i didnt have any real idea what I was getting myself in for. For example i didnt expect all the scary ghosts of the victims, and it made me jump a couple of times which I cant fault in a movie.

Fans of the genre im sure will love this.

Oh and she has a great pair!


Ben Austwick (13 years ago) Reply

I really enjoyed "Wrong Turn" but found "Zodiac" a bit slow - sounds like this is pitched somewhere imbetween and should be interesting. I'll look forward to checking it out.

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