by Fallon Morey
Directed by James Mangold
Columbia Pictures Corporation
Identity is not technically a horror movie. Wikipedia and IMDB both classify it as a thriller, and while that’s true, it does have all of the ingredients of a good horror movie. There are jump scares, mystery, foreboding settings, a steadily growing body count, and a crazy killer on the loose. What more could you ask for in a Halloween-season movie?
The film at first appears like it may be a cheap rip-off of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Eleven strangers find themselves, through a series of unconnected circumstances, isolated at a run-down motel. Among the guests are a limo driver, a prostitute, two convicted criminals, a newly married couple, and a young family with a small boy. One by one the guests fall victim to a mysterious madman in the order of the numbers on their hotel room keys.
Somewhere supposedly unconnected, a midnight meeting is convened between legal professionals and a psychiatrist (Alfred Molina) to determine the fate of Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a convicted serial killer who is scheduled to be executed in the morning. Rivers’ lawyer is arguing that there is key psychiatric evidence that the others must hear—that Malcolm Rivers suffers from an extreme case of personality disorder, and he happens to have 11 distinct personalities. One of these personalities—not the Malcolm Rivers personality—committed the murders, with Rivers along for the ride.
Back at the motel, the remaining group led by Edward (John Cusack) and Paris (Amanda Peet) attempt to stay alive and find the killer. Eventually Edward is able to find out who the killer may be, but not in the way you might suspect.
This movie has layers upon layers, stories within stories. For the first half, we don’t know which is the main narrative: the legal proceedings, or the strangers in the motel? The narrative is bounced back and forth from from the meeting to the motel and back again. Within the flashbacks at the motel, there are flashbacks to the earlier narratives of every character’s journey leading up to their arrival. The jumping narratives give us an unbalanced, dissociated feeling to match Malcolm’s psyche. Just when it seems the characters are on the cusp of solving the mystery, the film turns that common I-know-who-did-it feeling on its side and adds yet another layer.
The script, written by Michael Cooney, is nicely paced. We’re given just enough to be fully engrossed in the action at the motel, but there’s always Malcolm’s narrative looming in the background. It becomes obvious early on that both of the narratives are related by a single common thread, which is Malcolm Rivers, though the actual connection between the two isn’t as obvious. The movie is full of plot turns: some which the viewer may easily coming, and at least one big one which is nearly impossible to catch on the first viewing. For those who enjoy reverse flashbacks, or are fans of the M. Night Shyamalan type of twist, Identity will both scare you and keep you guessing throughout its runtime.