before the summer movie season fires its opening salvo, Identity lands
in theaters. It's a well cast, exceptionally photographed genre film that
seeks to redefine the term "psychological" horror. It captured the number
one slot at the box office on the weekend of April 25h, grossing some 17.1
million dollars. It has also garnered mostly positive reviews, a rarity for
scary flicks. Yet Identity, so terribly promising in its premise and
execution during the first two acts, ultimately crumbles in believability
during the third act, vetting a narrative "twist" that would have seemed old-hat
on Rod Serling's famous anthology, The Twilight Zone, in the 1960s.
Michael Cooney (Jack Frost ), Identity commences with
a famous cliché: the setting of "a dark and stormy night." From there, the
film introduces a gaggle of diverse, seemingly unconnected characters as they
seek shelter from a ferocious storm and end up huddled together at a dilapidated,
rundown motel in the middle of nowhere. Leading the unruly pack is Ed (John
Cusack) a former L.A. cop, now a professional driver and a fellow who occasionally
still suffers crippling blackouts. Then there's Paris Nevada (Amanda Peet),
a down-on-her-luck con woman hoping to go legit by purchasing an orange grove
in her home state of Florida.
Also at the
motel is a nasty correctional officer named Rhodes (Ray Liotta) and his psychotic
ward, a twitchy Jake Busey, and a family sidelined by a shocking car accident.
A child named Timmy and his stepfather (John C. McGinley) watch as the family's
matriarch slowly bleeds to death courtesy of a devastating highway impact.
these characters start to die at the motel, often in gruesome, murderous fashion.
The suspicious-seeming desk clerk (a brilliant John Hawkes) looks like a natural-born
suspect, and at least one character, a young woman played by Clea Du Vall
suggests that the murders are supernatural in origin since the motel is built
over the "Tribal Tombs" of a long-vanished Indian tribe. But as all of the
tension builds and builds at the motel, the film also occasionally and mysteriously
crosscuts to a "B" plot about the impromptu, middle-of-the-night mental competency
hearing for a serial killer scheduled to be executed.
To reveal more
of Identity's plot would do the mystery thriller a grave injustice,
since so much of the film depends on surprise and twists. Suffice it to say
that the opening acts are filled with shocking, visceral moments, like a series
of coincidental events that lead to a brutal car accident. These harrowing
moments successfully build the mystery in a stylish and visually appealing
fashion. Anyone familiar with the oeuvre of Quentin Tarantino will instantly
recognize the Pulp Fiction/Jackie Brown style "flashback" structure
of Identity, which deconstructs time, events and causality, playing back a
series of strange happenings.
director James Mangold (Cop Land , Kate & Leopold )
can't pull it all together for a rousing third act. One problem is that all
of those stylish freeze-frames and flashbacks ultimately fail to support the
final sting in the movie's tail. After viewing the completed movie, the audience
must rightly ask how this technique of deconstructing time supports the film's
overarching psychological thesis. My assertion is that it simply doesn't.
This entertaining flashback structure, stylish and involving in the extreme,
is finally revealed to be nothing more than show - fireworks. Given the conclusion
of the film, it doesn't make even a modicum of sense.
But jeez, what
a crazy third-act Identity boasts! Is it inventive? Perhaps so. Is
it different? Absolutely. But a total shock? Not even, especially for fans
of The Twilight Zone or particularly attentive viewers. For one thing,
it's difficult to deny that the "twist" is telegraphed from the opening credits.
is that the revelatory moment comes well before the climax and renders every
succeeding moment at the motel absolutely irrelevant. An important discovery
by one of the characters, Cusack's Ed, literally sucks the life out of the
rest of the film's tension threshold, and it no longer becomes paramount or
even particularly interesting which of the characters at the motel survives.
Suspense withers on the vine and the film sputters to a halt.
On top of the
faulty "twist," Identity strives for a last moment "bump."
If anything, this is even more of a letdown than the previous revelatory twist.
To wit, the audience understands that a killer is stalking everybody at the
motel and preventing these characters from escaping. Then one character survives
and escapes the locale, only to learn that the killer - surprise, surprise
- ain't really dead yet. Audiences should thus ask themselves one pertinent
question: why would the killer go to all the trouble of letting one character
escape, travel cross-country, only then to track that character down in another
state, literally? It doesn't make any sense; like the stylish flashbacks early
in the film it's simply an effort to give the end of the film a spike in interest.
The advertisements for Identity make it appear to be a masterful head-game, a mind blower along the lines of last year's superior American remake of The Ring. Those ads are misleading. Though Identity is splendidly acted and in general a fun 90 minutes of horror, its climax is a monumental letdown. Unlike other movies featuring great twists, such as The Ring, The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, it does not hold up to a second viewing. Frankly, it hardly earns its climax on a first viewing, causing the film to suffer nothing less than a terminal case of Identity Crisis.