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The Alphabet Killer: The Review

Director: Rob Schmidt

Cast: Eliza Dushku, Cary Elwes, Timothy Hutton, Tom Malloy, Michael Ironside

Plot: When several young girls turn up dead after being raped, Megan Paige (Dushku) is convinced it is the work of the same guy, although her deteriorating mental illness makes it hard to convince her colleagues of this.

I was looking forward to returning to my B-Movie category for the first time in a while. We have explored some weird movies here like Osombie and that zombie film set in a toilet cubicle. However, I wasn’t feeling like going full-crazy this week, so I found a film I have never heard of starring Eliza Dushku about a serial killer. It intrigued me, I felt it was interesting, so I rented it for a review.

Child rape is a pretty dark topic for a movie to tackle. The subject needs a bit of directorial flourish to make it not too unsettling for the viewer. Sadly, I had no idea that Rob Schmidt was said director, who I have only seen in Wrong Turn, famous for being my first one star review on this blog. Admittedly, he has improved and does try a bit harder to hone his craft. He is very fond of the spinning shot, which while occasionally distracting, does feel better than mere talking heads. However, he still doesn’t have a personal style, nitpicking certain tricks he has seen other directors pull off and trying his hand at them. His biggest mistake here is rather than trying to make this story seem overpowering, he enjoys wallowing in the misery of it all. A small sub-plot with a hostage situation ends in the most miserable way possible, hammering home the dark nature of the plot. It feels unnecessary – it isn’t as though anyone is going to mistake this story about rape and mental illness for a light-hearted detective romp.

The story also could have been improved. This is allegedly based on a true story, which does throw up its fair amount of problems when it comes to writing a decent ending. My main problem is that every line, action and scene is dedicated to pulling the story forward. The mystery is all this movie has going for it. The supporting cast have no personality, just the potential to be the killer by the end. When every moment you spend on this film is spent lumbering closer to the finish, it does get a little too much at points, especially considering this is very dark material we are dealing with here. It also means that the entire reason for being here is waiting for the final twist to come along. It isn’t too hard to figure out – who is acting totally out of character? Who is weirdly seperate for the rest of the action? However, because this is a true story where the real life killer hasn’t been found, the ending needs to be a little vague. While it might strike some viewers as clever and I must admit it does have a little sense of thoughtfulness, it does feel very unsatisfactory. Maybe I would have felt a little more generous towards the twist, if the build-up hadn’t been as full-on, as I just described. Maybe after watching HBO’sTrue Detective I need a bit more oomph with my serial killer dramas.

A pattern is also emerging with Rob Schmidt movies. Eliza Dushku always remains the best thing about his flicks. While at times, I could accuse her of over-acting, she does hold the story together. Megan Paige is a detective who gets too obsessed with the cases she is put on. She builds an emotional connection to the first ten year old girl who winds up dead, even to the point where she begins hallucinating that the girl is always watching her, judgementally. It started off cliched, but then the writer Malloy embraces the crazy side of the character. Dushku begins to suffer from schizophrenia and loses her badge. While she gets closer to solving the case in her free time, her mental condition breaks apart and she becomes an interesting untrustworthy narrator to the story. Is the twist or ending even real? It makes the red herrings and suspects more interesting. Is the priest actually creepy or is that Paige’s perspective blurring our insight into the case? It is a shame not enough time is put into her colleagues. The boss always comes out like a douche, while this should have been one of the first cop movies where we actually agreed that Paige should have been taken off the case. She isn’t even that good a detective. She cracks the case due to a chance meeting with an old Person of Interest that tells her a piece of information that any good cop would have known three years ago.

Final Verdict: A mediocre serial killer mystery. It does have atmosphere and Eliza Dushku, but otherwise it is a little bit too by-the-numbers to hit home.

Two Stars