Struggling writer Travis Hall lands a job as a night-shift security guard, thinking that the long, quiet hours will help him finish up his latest novel. The absurdity of the job, however, distracts him from his ambition.
A young Italian woman inherits from her deceased lover an enigmatic modern house in the New York country side, and goes to see it for the first time. When she arrives she meets the caretaker of the house...
WWII vet Eddie Boyd is torn between providing for his young family and an unfulfilled dream of becoming a Hollywood star. He discovers a way to do both, but his dream leads him down a path of danger and tragedy.
Stan is a quiet, solitary detective in New York City. A few months ago, he solved a gruesome case of serial murders, although an undercover police officer lost her life. A new set of similar murders begins: the bodies are elaborately displayed and the killer uses equipment from art and early movie making in the tableau, or he leaves a clue as to where the investigators are to stand to get the full artistic effect. Stan is paired with a younger detective, Carl, whom he brushes off when Carl wants to get to know him. As pieces fall in place, it's a race to prevent the next killing, quite possibly someone close to Stan. Written by
Willem Dafoe is an NYPD office teaching at the Academy. He's a troubled fellow. While he stands in line at the supermarket check-out counter, he lines his purchases up in precise configurations so that they form a square or some other regular shape. The camera looks straight down at the arrangement to make sure we get it.
It resonates with the rest of the story, although I wouldn't argue that the story makes a great deal of sense. Dafoe is called in to investigate a murder scene or, at any rate, a suspicious finding. The cops have occupied an apartment in which, if you shut off the lights, a tiny hole in the wall projects a bright image of a dead body in a queer pose. It's a camera obscura, used by some Renaissance painters to copy such objects as the doors of the Baptistry in Florence. (If I remember; I don't want to have to root around on Google looking up the details.) Similar murders follow, all observing the methods of a serial killer who took a slug in the middle of his forehead some years ago. "Anamorphosis" is brought in as an analytical tool by Peter Stormare as some kind of art fanatic who is Dafoe's acquaintance. Anamorphosis is forced perspective. Some artists painted an ordinary-looking picture, and inserted an odd-looking object somewhere in the display. If you look at the painting from the side, from a different angle, the object resolves into something recognizable. I think I saw one in a museum in Fort William, Scotland, of a distorted Bonny Prince Charlie -- again if I remember correctly. I don't want to have to root around in my long-term memory either.
But it's a dark and bleak story. Dafoe is not just an obsessive but a loner. His partner tells him, "We've been on the same desk for five years and I don't know anything about you. I don't know if you're married or where you live, and we carry the same shield." Dafoe doesn't speak much. He rarely asks questions. He shows little emotion. He wanders through the film's dark rooms, flashlight at his shoulder, observing chopped-up bodies.
The musical score is okay, but the photography is desaturated and in high contrast. It gets even more stylish during the flashbacks that show us why Dafoe is tortured by a guilt he refuses to confront.
Almost all of these movies about serial killers leaving convoluted puzzles behind for the police to figure out are pretty silly. They've managed to drag in the Seven Deadly Sins, Alice in Wonderland, pentagrams, and copycats killings of other famous serial murderers. It can be done successfully, even if it remains silly, as in "Seven". But, man, this one drags. And all those chopped-up bodies. A diapason of anatomy. There are no violent murders, no, but who wants to witness an autopsy without getting paid to do it?
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