Director – Rob Schmidt
Cast – Eliza Dushku, Cary Elwes, Timothy Hutton, Michael Ironside, Bill Mosely, Carl Lumbly
Release Year – 2008
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I’ve seen this film displayed quite a few times at local video stores and “RedBox” locations, but was always iffy on whether I should rent it. I personally love serial killer movies, and the fact that this film is directed by a very underrated director named Rob Schmidt(who also did Wrong Turn) I figured “what the heck?” and gave it a shot. This film does give us an interesting “M.O” for the serial killer and for the most part managed to be very effective in direction and story. However as with most films, there are a few elements where this film just falls flat on it’s face.
The Alphabet Killer is based on the “true events” involving a string of murders that took place in Rochester, New York between 1971 and 1973, appropriately dubbed the “alphabet murders”. Eliza Dushku, who was also in Rob Schmidt’s film “Wrong Turn”, stars as Lt. Megan Paige, a homicide detective who is assigned to a murder of a little girl. She is unable to solve this murder aside from some very interesting clues and evidence, and after repeatedly seeing the girl’s ghost her grief eventually drives her to attempt suicide. After a few years of treatment and attending a mental illness support group she is given a clerical job within the police department as a favor from her former fiancé(whom she lost thanks to her “illness“), Captain Kenneth Shine(Cary Elwes, who was the star of “Saw”). When another murder takes place that matches the same M.O as the murder several years prior, Megan Paige must now take matters into her own hands to find the killer and vindicate herself for her past failures.
This film started off great, and had me hooked on the notion of “what’s gonna happen next?”. I love that in films, and this Rob Schmidt’s use of gritty, low-light cinematography helps set the atmosphere for this “cat and mouse” type serial killer flick. As I mentioned earlier, the serial killer’s M.O was interesting, and has not been overdone in films to my knowledge. He/she(I’m not giving any clues) picks children who’s first and last initials are the same alphabetical letter, and leaves the body in a city that starts with the same letter. It may not be the most ingenious serial killer philosophy, but it is still original as far as other stories are concerned.
Rob Schmidt once again does an amazing job directing and is really the biggest reason behind whatever success this film has received. His camera angles, cinematography, and pacing in the film work well and leave me asking myself “Why doesn’t this guy get more films? And with better budgets???”. He really does things right in the horror/thriller genre, and hopefully some big producers will notice him and give him a shot at bringing us some good horror flicks in the future.
The acting performances were well done and didn’t really detriment the film. Eliza Dushku has done well in previous roles and although she pretty much nailed her part in this film, I really do not like her in roles that require mental instability in her characters. It’s not just this film either. She suffers from the same miscasting in the TV show “Dollhouse”, which she stars in as an agent who constantly has her memory erased after completing different assignments. Maybe it is because she is too hot to be crazy, maybe it is the look in her eyes, but in all honesty…I simply do not like her in these types of roles.
Although I enjoyed the direction in this film, I felt the writing and story could have been improved. Writer Tom Malloy, who has a supporting role in this film as Det. Stephen Harper, did do a very nice job with the use of the film’s supporting characters. A lot of serial killer films have very few supporting characters, and make the required twist ending a little easier to guess. This film having so many different supporting characters works to it’s advantage and helps keep the viewer unaware of who the killer really is. I did not find the killer’s true identity to be THAT much of a surprise, but the way the character was written in was pretty clever. Bravo to Mr. Malloy. My gripes with this film’s writing mainly have to do with the notion of the “renegade cop who has to break the rules to vindicate himself/herself and solve a case using facts nobody wants to listen to”, which is exactly what happens with Eliza Dushku’s character. I do understand there has to be some conflict with her character or else the film will be a bore, but there are creative ways to alter this film’s conflict to be a bit more original and not so cliché.
Overall, this is a moderately done film that will not give you anything new as far as it’s serial killer sub-genre goes. This is ok to watch as long as you don’t expect anything amazing from it and enjoy these types of thrillers.