The last movie we saw was probably the biggest budget flick. Not for any special effects but for name actors.
Frank Whaley, Traci Lords, Gabrielle Anwar and Dina Meyer star with George Newborn and co-writer Dan DeLuca as grownups who (as kids) were institutionalized together as part of a behavioral experiment (and such things did happen, although this is not based on any particular incident as far as is detectable). They meet at the funeral of one of their friends and relive aspects of the past as the memories return.
So, sort of a The Big Chill with ghosts.
Last year, you may recall, I gave up on the fest with The Abandoned, which is a genre of film I just don’t care for. This movie actually falls in to the same genre—as becomes apparent when the six travelers drive past the same house over and over again—but this wasn’t so off-putting.
The good parts of this film include the acting, the setting, and the back-story. Well, sort of on the whole back-story thing. The problem with this movie is that it never decides what it wants to be.
Tantalizing things are hinted at. Nothing is ever truly settled upon. I suppose this could work. But here it just leaves questions without any strong motivation to pursue the answers to.
Obviously, these characters know each other and know that they know each other. But they don’t know that they were institutionalized. Or maybe they do, but they don’t know for how long. Or what happened while they were there. They’ve committed some kind of terrible crime; but in actual fact what is finally described sounds more like an accident of childish ignorance.
There’s an implication that they lack the capacity for guilt, and so are sociopathic, yet nothing at all about their characters suggests anything extraordinary about their emotional state (under the circumstances).
The stinger seems to be a pointless flashback. But it might be suggesting that none of what we’ve seen actually happened.
The characters are being tormented by a ghost. Or they’re doing it themselves.
Here’s the thing: The frisson in horror comes from a re-adjustment of perspective. Think of the marvellously chilling scene in Misery where James Caan discovers how tiny Kathy Bates really is. Think of the aftermath of the Alien bursting out of John Hurt’s chest and the realization that everything has changed forever—and things aren’t going to be okay.
I’m avoiding spoilers here, so I won’t detail The Sixth Sense, The Others, and similar films where the chilling parts were often twists in the story line. The only way it works, however, is to take an unclear or incorrect audience perspective and throw it into contrast by illuminating something previously unknown.
In other words, we have to see how small Kathy Bates is in order to throw our view of her as a psychopath into contrast. We have to see the hulking killer Malcolm and understand his relationship to the vulnerable hooker Paris in order to make everything come together in Identity.
If we have no clear idea what’s going on and are presented with imagery that suggests yet another unclear idea, we get no frisson. And that, in a nutshell, is what’s missing from this potentially classic film.