Film name: Identity
Release date: 2003
Genre: Murder mystery, horror
Starring: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet
Director: James Mangold
Script: Michael Cooney
Studio: Sony Pictures
Length: 90 minutes
The 2003 film Identity surprised me in a number of ways. This can only be a good thing.
Given the penchant for the mainstream part of the industry churning out film after film that feature certain types of storylines, things can get a little predictable at times.
I often watch films and end up thinking ‘That’s X crossed with Y’, something that the industry itself admits it uses to decide which films to green light.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing all of the time. We like to know what we’re getting when we give our time and money to entertainment, after all.
But I do like to see films occasionally that make me sit up and think ‘What’s going on here?’
The first layer of Identity suggests a murder mystery scenario. Jim and I joked that it felt a little bit like Agatha Christie in a motel.
The wrap-around involves a murderer, Malcolm Rivers, who faces immediate execution. He being considered for clemency by a judge in a late-night hearing.
The connection between the two elements of the film isn’t immediately apparent. Most of the early part of Identity centres around the motel. I felt a strong Psycho feel from the start, and even joked that the set looked exactly like the Bates Motel.
This connection only deepened at Identity progressed. It was far from obvious that the creepy, low-life motel manager was the murderer, however.
The Agatha Christie structure meant that any of the motel guests, all of whom take shelter there from a hurricane, could be the killer. There were certain figures who seemed less likely to be the murderer, but beyond that it could have been anyone.
John Cusack’s former policeman was the authority figure. However, I was never convinced by Ray Liotta’s correctional officer transporting a dangerous prisoner. There was just something about the glint in his eye that I didn’t like. And the child, who seldom spoke but was always there, was positively unnerving.
As the night unfolds, one after another the motel guests are killed in various bloody ways. A calling card from the killer is left at each murder scene in the form of their numbered room key.
Each murder is more outlandish than the last, and then the bodies start to disappear. The whole thing had an aura of unreality that was very carefully managed.
Initially, the scenario seemed as realistic as any murder mystery. There was an authority figure, possibly two, investigating. Murders took place one after the other, and the least likeable character by far was the first to die.
Everyone was corralled at one location and was unable to leave, meaning that they were all trapped in the vicinity of a brutal murderer.
Occasionally, we saw short scenes relating to the clemency hearing for Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince) where his psychologist (Alfred Molina) explains that he is insane. Later, the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder is introduced.
Rivers has multiple identities, and one of those committed the murders of which he has already been convicted. These identities bubble up during the hearing, but his psychologist is convinced of his insanity and wants to persuade the judge to commute the death sentence.
It is only right at the end of Identity that the connection between the two elements of the film is made plain. There is also a surprise twist in the ending that was very well done.
Even the ending was mysterious. It led to some spirited discussion between Jim and me about whether Malcolm Rivers’ final journey was supposed to be real or a figment of his imagination. The ending of Identity can be enjoyed regardless of how this particular question is settled.
Thank you for reading my review of Identity. I'll be back on Tuesday. In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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