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Killing Others To Survive: Identity, the Film

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The 2003 psychological horror film Identity is not a direct adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1939 mystery novel And Then There Were None, though the plot of Identity is structured like that classic novel. In both, “10 strangers arrive at an isolated location which becomes temporarily cut off from the rest of the world,” where terror and paranoia mount as the strangers are killed off one by one. Despite the fact that one of the characters in Identity tries to explain the unusual and downright scary events at the isolated motel with a story of displaced Native Americans who may be seeking supernatural revenge, there is nothing other-worldly about Identity and its scares. The real horror of Identity is even spookier than revenge-seeking ghosts.

John Cusack, Identity © Columbia Pictures

The story begins with a chauffeur, Ed (John Cusack), getting trapped by washed-out roads at a lonely motel with his movie-star passenger Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca DeMornay), who is beyond annoyed at the fact that they end up stuck at some slimy motel.

Rebecca DeMornay, Identity © Columbia Pictures

Soon Ed, who is a former police officer, and the spoiled actress are joined by a family, including son Timmy, whose mother was injured in an accident.

Identity © Columbia Pictures

Because of the relentless thunderstorm, other travellers are also soon stranded at the motel, including a former prostitute Paris (Amanda Peet), who is leaving Las Vegas and traveling to Florida to start a new life as a citrus farmer,

Amanda Peet, Identity © Columbia Pictures

a pregnant newlywed Ginny (Clea Duvall) who is insecure about her husband’s love and completely, irrationally superstitious on her best days,

Clea Duvall, Identity © Columbia Pictures

and another cop, Rhodes (Ray Liotta), escorting a dangerous convict, and who goes crazy when his convict escapes shortly after their arrival at the motel.

Ray Liotta, Identity © Columbia Pictures

When other people begin disappearing at Larry’s (John Hawkes) motel, everybody gets more than a little anxious, paranoid, and defensive.

John Hawkes, Identity © Columbia Pictures

It doesn’t help that some of the stranded motorists feel they’re being targeted, that it’s raining and it’s the middle of the deep dark night, or that way too many of the stranded people at the out-of-the-way motel are awfully proficient in the use of firearms.

John Cusack and Ray Liotta, Identity © Columbia Pictures

Now, throw in the story of a convicted mass murderer / serial killer Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who’s getting a last-minute, pre-execution hearing from a judge and prosecuting attorneys

Pruitt Taylor Vince, Identity © Columbia Pictures

because the convicted killer’s psychiatrist Dr. Malick (Alfred Molina)

Alfred Molina, Identity © Columbia Pictures

insists that his client-patient is not morally responsible or legally guilty of the crimes. Since Rivers is not mentally competent, Dr. Malick explains, it is irrelevant that Rivers’ body might have, in fact, perpetrated the murders that Malcolm Rivers was convicted of committing.

Bret Loehr as Timmy, Identity © Columbia Pictures

What does that convicted serial killer have to do with the people stranded at the isolated motel in the pouring rain? Are they his victims? Are we, in fact, seeing the killer’s memories of all the people he killed? Is the killer truly and verily mentally incompetent, as his psychiatrist insists to the judge and attorneys present at the last-minute competency hearing?

You won’t miss the absent supernatural elements in this scary thriller. By the time you get to the big Reveal, you’ll be as spooked as the people stranded at that isolated motel.

The film has a great storyline and powerful acting by everyone involved. Identity is a psychological horror great. It’s available for rent for a few bucks, or purchase for a few dollars more, from Amazon, from YouTube, from iTunes, and more.

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Suspense via Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven, the 2012 Film

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I’m not sure why the 2012 film The Raven doesn’t have at least 9 out of 10 stars on popular reviewing sites because it is one of the best takes on Edgar Allan Poe and his stories that I’ve ever seen. If you know anything about Poe, you know he is credited with inventing the detective story, and he is famous for some of his scary tales, like “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” many of which were made into somewhat cheesy 1960s horror films starring Vincent Price. As a fan of Poe’s since I was 11, when I first read all of his works, I was surprised that I’d never heard of the film, starring John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe, in an interpretation where the drug-addicted and alcoholic writer is redeemed by his love and self-sacrifice for his fiancée.

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The film begins and ends with this enigmatic scene: Poe sitting on a bench in the middle of a public park, motionless, gazing upward. The scene then switches to officers responding to the screams of a woman. When they break into the locked boarding-house room, they discover bodies but no assailant; they find a window nailed shut. Viewers familiar with Poe’s work will immediately recognize the scenario from Poe’s  “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Even if you’re not familiar with Poe’s tales, however, you can certainly enjoy the film, in which a literate serial killer seems to be trying to implicate Poe in murders that come from his published stories.

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Inspector Fields (Luke Evans, L) recognizes the stories from which the crimes are mirrored, and when he calls in Poe for questioning, it becomes apparent that the author is not the killer. Fields then enlists Poe to help him and his men solve the crimes.

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Poe’s involvement in solving the crimes is complicated by the presence of his fiancée Emily (Alice Eve), whose father, wealthy Captain Charles Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t know about their relationship or their secret engagement. Furthermore, Hamilton wouldn’t approve if he did know of their love. When the mysterious killer kidnaps Emily and gives Poe clues to her whereabouts, Hamilton is forced to work with Poe, whom he dislikes, and with the Inspector, to save Emily.

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The film is genuinely gripping suspense, even if you are familiar with the Poe stories on which the killer is basing his crimes. Additionally, though Cusack sometimes seems to be a bit unemotional in his delivery of some lines, his Poe is fascinating. Cusack’s Poe has a temper, he’s jealous of “hacks” like fellow-poet Longfellow, he’s experiencing writer’s block that prevents him from earning sufficient money to formally request Emily’s hand in marriage, but in The Raven, this Poe is transformed from a drug-addled failure to a clever, romantic hero of admirable proportions. In the 2012 film The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe is worthy of respect and admiration, no matter his personal failings.

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The Raven is airing Friday and Saturday 2-3 December on Starz, and is available any time on Starz on Demand. The film is also available for $2.99-3.99 on these providers: YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Amazon, and GooglePlay.

Watch it with the lights out for best creepity effects, my Lovelies, and enjoy the official trailer.

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