Reviewed by Serena Whitney
Starring Eliza Dushku, Cary Elwes, Timothy Hutton, Tom Malloy, Michael Ironside, Bill Moseley
Directed by Rob Schmidt
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
If you are a horror fan, you are always partial to at least a couple of sub-genres in horror. One of the sub-genres I tend to follow is anything about police procedurals. Not since David Fincher’s underrated Zodiac have I been able to watch a truly worthy and interesting film about true American crime. That’s why when I heard Rob Schmidt (the director of the awesome and again underrated Wrong Turn) helmed a thriller with an impressive ensemble cast loosely based on “the double initial murders” that took place in New York from 1970 to 1973, I was beyond psyched to see the finished product. (That and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” was on hiatus.)
Before I get ahead of myself, let me briefly fill you in with the plot. A talented and truly dedicated NY police investigator named Megan Paige (Dushku) and her partner/fiancé (played by Cary Elwes) are given the chance to investigate the vicious rape and murder of a young girl by the name of Carla Castillo, whose body was found in a ditch not far from the city. In spite of Megan’s hard work and flair, she is unable to capture the killer, and this leads to a mental breakdown, hallucinations, and a suicide attempt.
Two years later, after getting help from a support group lead by her wheelchair-bound friend Richard (Hutton), Megan is back at the police department and is gradually getting her life together. That is until two more young girls with double initials are raped and murdered and it becomes clear to Megan that the Alphabet Killer has reappeared as well as the hallucinations of the dead girls. Can Megan catch the “Alphabet Killer” without losing her own sanity in the process?
I had high hopes for The Alphabet Killer if not only for its stellar genre-favourite cast that includes Michael Ironside, Tom Noonan, Bill Moseley, Timothy Hutton, and Cary Elwes. Unfortunately, it seems watching genre greats cashing in paychecks was the most exciting thing about this surprisingly dull thriller.
Now it’s not as if the film is not competently made. Schmidt’s flair behind the camera definitely shows as he is able to provide a bleak and cold look that only leaves viewers with a feeling of despair throughout the film. Also casting Eliza Dushku (with whom he previously collaborated on Wrong Turn) was also a good choice for she was able to offer a strong performance as the tragically flawed heroine. She obviously believed in the project as she also serves as one of the executive producers. All the actors did a fine job with their extended cameos as well. It should be pointed out that Martin Donovan and Melissa Leo gave the most impressive performances in their only scene as distraught parents of one of the victims. Having that said, capable directing and acting could not save this movie from its convoluted and lifeless script.
Tom Malloy (who also produced and co-starred in the film) helmed a script that is fairly different than most police procedurals, and although at the beginning it serves as one of the film’s strengths, it ultimately is its biggest downfall. This is because the script contains supernatural elements that just didn’t quite fit in what should have been just a tight-knit crime thriller. By mixing in J-horror tactics, it made the other aspects feel cheap and exploitative and disrespectful. (Especially considering this is loosely based on a true story.)
Not to mention the many improbable events that happen with no explanation as to why they happened (like why did the police chief frame another man for the murders?) and needless scenes of slow exposition that could have been easily cut out of the movie. Let’s not forget the cheap and blatant nod for a sequel (really?) or the killer “twist” that any fan of the genre can see coming a mile away. (Hint: Like in the film Hide and Seek, if you see a well-known and experienced actor whose role seems to hold no significance to the plot in a horror film, suspect that person is the killer.)
The DVD specs for this film were also a disappointment. Viewers get a barely five-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that did not feature any interviews from the cast and crew. If watching scenes being filmed and then watching the finished product over and over again for five minutes excites you, then be my guest. (Note: Do not watch before watching the feature. It reveals the killer in the first 30 seconds.) There is also a quick alternate scene for the opening that doesn’t provide many differences.
The disc also offers two audio commentaries, the first with producer Isen Robbins and director Rob Schmidt and the other with writer/producer/actor Tom Malloy. These commentaries thankfully make up for the lacklustre special features.
The Alphabet Killer wants to come across as a gripping psychological thriller to viewers but instead is an unbalanced hybrid of genres with gripping performances. That is not to say it is a total disaster. Like I said before, Schmidt proves to be worthy director behind the camera, and even though the script is very flawed, one can’t deny the effort and creativity that was put behind it.
So if a flawed thriller, solid performances, and a glimpse of Dushku’s breasts grab your attention, watch this film; otherwise just wait for Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse”.
Audio commentary with producer Isen Robbins and director Rob Schmidt
Audio commentary with Writer/producer/actor Tom Malloy
Featurette: A to Z: The Making of The Alphabet Killer
Alternate Scene – “First Victim”
3 out of 5
2 out of 5
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