Souder, a homicide detective in a small Texan town, and his partner, transplanted New York City cop Detective Heigh, track a sadistic serial killer dumping his victims' mutilated bodies in a nearby marsh locals call 'The Killing Fields'. Though the swampland crime scenes are outside their jurisdiction, Detective Heigh is unable to turn his back on solving the gruesome murders. Despite his partner's warnings, he sets out to investigate the crimes. Before long, the killer changes the game and begins hunting the detectives, teasing them with possible clues at the crime scenes while always remaining one step ahead. When familiar local girl Ann goes missing, the detectives find themselves racing against time to catch the killer and save the young girl's life.
This place is nothing but chaos. Your God doesn't even come here.
Texas Killing Fields is directed by Ami Canaan Mann and written by Don Ferrarone. It stars Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jessica Chastain, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jason Clarke, Annabeth Gish and Stephen Graham. Music is by Dickon Hinchliffe and cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh. Film is based around real events involving the many murders of women whose bodies have been found in a desolate area of road and wasteland between Houston and Galveston.
Ami Canaan Mann is the daughter of Michael Mann, one of the masters of modern day crime story movies, so it's not very surprising to see Ami, for her sophomore production, venture into murky waters. Texas Killing Fields is a bayou noir, where although the title hints at human devastation unbound, it's actually a slow burning skin itcher more concerned with the people investigating crime than that of the perpetrators. How the sorry events affect all who come in to contact with the crimes at the film's core, is what drives Texas Killing Fields on. Sadly the screenplay takes on board too much and nearly derails an otherwise very good movie.
If it comes down to atmosphere and technical smarts in achieving such? Then this is one of the finest of recent times. There's a constant sense of broody foreboding throughout, the haunting landscapes are all gnarly and spectre like, the whole area literally stinks of death and misery. Even when the story is away from the fields of the title, there's a mood of despair filtering out from Mann and Dryburgh's lenses, the hot Texas weather draining every ounce of sweat from the emotionally troubled detectives. All of the atmosphere is helped considerably by Hinchliffe's music, which piggybacks the misery with ominous bluesy tones.
Unfortunately all this deft atmospheric craft can't stop the screenplay from being annoying. A sub-plot involving Worthington and Chastain as ex husband and wife is as pointless as it gets, which simultaneously wastes Chastain in the process. The makers have chosen to actually have suspects front and centre for the crimes on screen (unlike the real life cases, most of which remain unsolved), well they intend to keep it mysterious, but anyone paying attention will catch on quickly enough. There's also problems with the sound mix, which at times is appalling, rendering some crucial dialogue exchanges as inaudible.
Cast are good, especially Morgan and Moretz, and Mann shows a good hand at action sequences to compliment her astute mood setting skills. But this still feels like a misfire, and subsequent critical appraisals and internet rating systems have it as just above average. That's a little unfair, there's much for the neo-noir/crime movie crowd to get enthralled by here, but Mann may need to sharpen up her story telling whiles to fully bloom her undoubted potential. 6.5/10
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