Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Identity Review

Identity movie poster

Identity has one of the worst premises in horror movie history. That is my opinion, don’t take it to the bank. I personally dislike anything to do with split personalities, recovered memory, or identity crisis endings. I don’t like them at all, but have always seemed to enjoy horror movies until the reveal. Identity, however, did something that I didn’t think could be done, they one upped the Identity crisis theme with a reveal that left me gasping when it was all said and done, and the very last moments of this movie were well worth the travel time involved. Identity is a very scary movie, even if it might not all be what it seems.

Here is a trailer for the movie Identity:

*Note, this is a fan made edit, since the original trailer was taken down.

Identity opens up with two stories that don’t seem to connect at all. The larger of the stories is about 5 people that end up stranded at a motel. Each of them have a secret, and each of them share something in common. Things start to go bad as one by one, each person dies a very horrific death and the story starts to unfold in a very unconventional way.

As we see our first death, the members start to turn on each other and each one is blamed for deaths that follow until there is only a couple people left. While this pressure cooker heats up, we get taken to a court room where a lawyer is arguing a case for his client. He states that his client is mentally ill and suffers from multiple personality disorder. The viewer is not quite sure why they are being shown this, but it is a major focal point of the story later on. This sort of odd storytelling is often done in literature, specifically in a recent book that I read “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman works his magic through a main storyline, only to give you pages upon pages of interior story arcs that seem to be parallel to a subplot that you’re reading, but are located in different areas. It’s not too unlike his “Sandman” series either. Where the stories are not really a sum of the plots but more or less strings of fantasy that may or may not be relevant to the reader; Identity plays these tricks on you but in very subtle ways.

The quality of the film is good. The budget was nearly 30 million dollars and the studio had some heavy hitters acting. John Cusack plays our lead, Amanda Peet, Ray Liotta, John C. McGinley, Rebecca De Mornay, Jake Busey, and other notables all make up the supporting cast and do a fine job in detailing their shock and secrecy in this film. As the remaining members figure out that the secret they share is a birthday, things start to really spin out of control as we see John Cusack pop up in the courtroom as the person being prosecuted.

Identity Cusack

Each character is defined by either their profession or their past. We have the criminal, the single girl, a family with a small child (who eventually gets killed too, sad…I know), The Detective, the Rich lady, the limo driver, and some others, that I don’t remember. Eventually some of them use these professions to justify insults and reactions to the unfolding stories. Eventually the friction causes concern and the drama turns worse as each person is killed in different ways.

As you’re hitting yourself, wondering why in the world I just ruined the movie for you, I must state that the key elements that I just told you are NOT the reveal and only lend themselves as surface scratches to the bigger plot twist that is awaiting you if you watch Identity. In fact, there are several twists that jump at you in the course of this film, which is probably why it was so popular at the time of its release in 2003. The advertising campaign that surrounded this did not mention anything about the illusion or magic trick like sequences that make you think of “The Prestige” all over again. If nothing else, this movie has to be praised for the way it was handled marketing wise. No other horror movie that I can remember played the bait and switch so well like Identity did in 2003. That’s not a bad thing though, as it surely delivered some refreshing twists and turns not too unlike a Goosebumps book by R.L Stine.

identity screen

Why Identity is scary: Identity is scary initially because the way each stranger is dying mysteriously. They are gruesome deaths, and as panic sets in, we see just how bad human nature really is. Whether it’s being stuffed in an industrial clothes dryer or getting a baseball bat shoved down your throat, these murders are mysteries surrounding them play out in a very real and horrific way. We don’t always see them, but we see the aftermath of each and each one is almost vomit inducing. The gore is not played up, but it gives you just enough detail to make you a bit queasy. The fact that the unknown is played up, alongside a stormy night, makes this movie more than just a thriller and start to get into horror territory.

Sharing a birthday is not too uncommon, but sharing a birthday with 4 different people all of which are stuck together in one place at one time, that’s creepy too. I’ve met a few people with my birthday of Valentines day, and my sister shares it too, but I’ve never met a lot of people in the same place at the same time who share that day or have been in dire consequences with people that share my date of birth. This is a creepy detail in the film and not knowing what everything entails offers a very scary detail. The location causes some uneasiness too, with this hotel looking a lot like the set of “The Devil’s Rejects” or “Vacancy” just to name a couple of movies that feature terror inducing hotels.

One of the scariest things about this film is not that you can’t trust anyone, it’s that you can’t trust yourself. Cusack’s character really believes that he’s the hero, and when he realizes that he’s not in control of the situation at all, and that he is deceived the shock is traumatic to say the least. Ever had a nightmare that felt so real that you swore it was really happening? Ever done something so wrong that you didn’t even realize that it was you? This movie tries to play on that simple emotional distrust that we all have inside ourselves, that fine line between self awareness and insanity. The movie also plays with our mind’s eye continually telling us that things are not real and that they are only dreams. It’s a really scary notion to wake up and find your world upside down, and to realize that your secrets are also the secrets of those around you.

There are two great sequences that close this film. We get the standard shock ending with all that is tranquil and simple, a finality that makes us feel all safe and fuzzy inside. However, it turns into shock as the killer snaps, and we get the reality of the situation. I won’t go into the other shock because if I do, I will give away the whole reveal and the movie’s tone relies heavily on this swerve.

Like I said at the beginning of this review, I hate identity crisis plots. Even though many classics and contemporaries rely heavily on the identity angle as a plot structure, I just don’t like it. I know, that means I don’t like “Psycho”, “Secret Window”, “Jacob’s Ladder”, “Session 9”, “The Shining”, “Fight Club”, “High Tension”, “The Number 23”, and many others, right? Wrong. I just think it’s a cheap way out, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done well. I thought it was done well in this film as it offered up a little more than say “Secret Window” did. I liked the pacing of this film and I liked the parallel storylines that ultimately ended with one hell of a jump scare, if I do say so myself. This movie plays more on your psychological fear of identity rather than placing a killer in the role of amnesiac, and that my friends, is scary. Identity is a scary thrill ride, and while it is not filled with sex and gore, it is filled with enough of a plot and good character acting to keep even the harshest critics from taking a dump on it. Plus, you have to admit that it’s nice to see John Cusack in a role where he’s not playing the recently dumped, single cool guy. Isn’t it?

American Dad

As a Bonus, I want to mention a recent identity crisis story that you may or may not have realized. Do you recall the recent episode of "American Dad"? Roger is convinced that someone has stolen his identity, but was just him and his own personal identity crisis. Oh and yes...I'm aware of the new Christian Slater show about this...see..the whole Identity Crisis thing is not only in horror it's all over the place!

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  1. This is a bad ass movie. I always catch it when it's playing on TV. You pretty much nailed it where it's not so much the death and gruesomeness of the deaths that make this flick scary, but the fact that the "hero" is in utter confusion as he realizes he is not who he thought he was. Good stuff.

  2. I totally guessed the twist before it was shown. The key scene is when they reveal their last names. Good and moody film. I love the conceit of heavy weather and washed out roads trapping the protagonists all in the same hotel and something happening there.

  3. I really loved this one. Okay, the poster should've given the plot away instantly but duh...the mind didn't pick up on it. BTW, your mention of Gaiman's American Gods is making me want to read that book. -C


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A writer first, cat lover second, and some other stuff too. Human, with lots of faults, and terrible communication.
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