Picture this: It's a dark, stormy night. The kind of night where the rain never stops falling and lightning continuously darts across the sky. The thunder rumbles every so often, creating an atmosphere that simply screams of ominous dread. Ten strangers from all walks of life find shelter from the downpour at an old motel in the middle of nowhere. Mysterious things start to happen, and then, one by one, the strangers begin to die...
This description could apply to dozens of different movies, and itís the setup of Identity
, a thriller from director James Mangold (Copland
, Girl, Interrupted
). Yet I'm sure everyone knows that you canít judge a book by it's cover, just like you can't judge a film by it's crappy and overused "floating heads" DVD artwork. Identity
may start out like your typical slasher flick meets Agatha Christie novel, but thankfully it ends up in a very different, more interesting place.
The plot of the film revolves around the aforementioned ten strangers, which includes Ed (John Cusack), a limo driver carting around a diva of a celebrity (Rebecca DeMornay). Ed is involved in a car accident that affects the lives of George York (John C. McGinley of Scrubs
fame), his wife and their young son. They go to the motel for help and meet the desk clerk Larry, as well as a hooker named Paris (Amanda Peet), and a young married couple. Last to arrive at the motel is Rhodes (Ray Liotta), a cop who is transporting a prisoner who is a known murderer. The roads are flooded and everyone is basically trapped until morning, which is when the mysterious deaths start to happen.
Now, without blurting out any spoilers, I have to say that Identity
has a big old blindsiding twist toward the end that turns the entire B-movie slasher concept right on its head. It's rare that a film starts out like a standard thriller and then takes a third act turn toward something more clever and intriguing. Usually a film will do the exact opposite by starting out strong and then screwing it all up with the conclusion. It's a nice treat, and certainly not something I expected from screenwriter Michael Cooney. This is the guy whose previous credits are the straight-to-video mutant killer snowman flicks Jack Frost 1 & 2
. If you've had the pleasure of mocking those hilarious films while drinking with your friends, you probably wouldnít think that the man behind them could script a real Hollywood movie. Surprises abound with this project.
One thing that isn't surprising with a cast of this caliber is the quality of the performances. It can be tough with an ensemble picture to assemble a group of actors that click and have real chemistry, but these are A-listers and they all turn in admirable performances. Cusack shines as the limo driver trying to keep everyone's sanity in check, and Liotta turns in his usual tough but kinda creepy character. Even the actors who I didn't have much faith in, such as Amanda Peet as the hooker and Jake Busey as the convict, managed to impress in their roles.
I'm a sucker for a film that keeps me guessing and keeps me on my toes, leading me to think that maybe I can jump one step ahead of the characters and figure out the mystery before they do. It's kind of impossible with this film, but it's certainly fun to try. My only complaint, and itís not a common one, was that the movie seemed too short. The big twist seemed to come in just as the murder mystery was getting the most involving, and it left me with a feeling that maybe the makers flashed their cards a bit too early.
If you go into this movie expecting a slasher film or a down and dirty horror movie, you're probably going to be disappointed. There are a few scares and some grisly offscreen deaths, but the focus is more on the mystery than the murders. This is more like the B-movie cousin of dark, twisty flicks like Seven
and The Sixth Sense
. Its stagy feel and limited scope don't allow it to reach the heights of those films, but it's still a fun, slick little thriller that's smarter than the average blockbuster.
So, the next time you're stuck in on one of those, dark, rainy, ominous nights, you might want to check out this creepy little mystery movie. I'm sure that some people will be put off by the direction the story goes in after the big twist, but at least you'll realize that you've been suckered by a film that had the ability to outsmart the audience. In this age of utter predictability and screenplays that can be summed up in five words or less, it's certainly a welcome change.