Preview by: Jack Foley
TAKE a classic haunted house scenario, and add 10 ensemble stars
and a well-proven director, and you might just have the perfect
recipe for one of the year's most promising sleeper movies - one
that is guaranteed to give you nightmares.
Identity, directed by James (Copland/Girl, Interrupted) Mangold
and starring the likes of John Cusack, Amanda Peet and Ray Liotta,
is set at a creepy motel in the middle of the desert in the middle
of a violent rainstorm which has washed out all the roads and
all forms of communication.
Enter 10 stranded strangers, who congregate at the ramshackle
motel only to discover, to their horror, that someone, or something
is stalking them, picking them off one by one.
The strangers in questions are comprised of Ed (John Cusack),
a former cop turned limo driver for an actress (Rebecca DeMornay);
Rhodes (Ray Liotta) a corrections officer transporting a convict
(Jake Busey); Paris (Amanda Peet), a hooker leaving her past;
Larry (John Hawkes), the motel owner with something to hide; Ginny
(Clea DuVall) and Lou (Will Lee Scott), a troubled couple and
the York family (John C. McGinley, Leila Kenzle and Bret Loehr),
who come to the motel in need of medical attention after an accident
on the highway.
Put together by the husband-and-wife team of director, Mangold,
and producer, Cathy Konrad (the Scream series, Copland and Girl,
Interrupted), the film is being described as a 'small, down and
dirty independent movie instead of a studio picture', despite
being distributed by Columbia Tristar.
Mangold first became attracted to the story after thinking it
played out like an old-time movie, such as The Maltese Falcon,
Life Boat or The Big Sleep, toying with time, memory,
reality and nightmares in a fascinating way.
He added: "In addition, we both have been interested in
a genre piece, where the lighting can be somewhat heightened,
more dramatic and that it takes place in essentially one location,
so in this case the motel itself becomes a character in the movie."
Both Mangold and Konrad also love the concept of ensemble movies,
'of throwing characters into a pot and just seeing what happens'.
"The proximity of the characters to one another and the pressure
and violence, force the secrets out of the characters as the movie
progresses," adds Mangold.
Cusack, meanwhile, plays one of the film's pivotal characters.
Ed is stuck in a dead-end job as a limo driver and is designed
to lend the film a sense of a Raymond Chandler novel.
Continues Mangold: "People like Ed, whose life has turned
sour, are intriguing, because they have given up on dreams and
are accepting of lifes grimmer realities."
Cusack, who has long displayed a keen eye for a quality movie,
says he was hooked by the writing in Identity, as well as by the
prospect of appearing in an ensemble piece.
"Its a sophisticated, adult thriller which, when I
first read it, had me guessing, and the tension was heightened
by misdirection and I kept getting surprised," he revealed.
"From an acting point of view, whats unusual about
this movie is the actors are serving an intricate plot. Most films
you have do things where character motivates plot, but this is
where we are basically elegant chess pieces and its a nice
change of pace to be in service of that," he adds.
For Liotta, who has previously worked with Mangold on the excellent
Cop Land, the film presented the actor with the opportunity to
work in a genre that he had never tried.
"When I started acting, I always wanted to do as many different
parts as possible and as many different genres," he maintains.
"And to my surprise, everyone else in the cast really loves
playing the game that this script is. This is truly
the kind of stuff that you play when youre a kid: pretending
whos around the corner; whats going on; pretending
"Its real moody and a great exercise in make-believe."
The word on Identity was mainly positive... and with good reason.
IndieLondon caught a screening earlier this month and is poised
But this is about what the US critics had to say and, leading
the way, is the Chicago Tribune, which wrote that 'it's
a relentlessly tricky and scary show, with a bit more plot and
humanity than this kind of modern Grand Guignol usually gives
Entertainment Weekly, meanwhile, awarded it a B- and wrote
that 'still, even as I could admire the story's twistiness and
catalogue its influences, I was stuck with a who-cares-who-killed-Roger-Ackroyd
problem that dulled my excitement before the pieces fell into
place: Until 'Identity' allows the audience to make sense of what
we've been watching in a big moment of aha!, there's nothing to
do but sit through scares and deaths that matter little in a game
whose rules aren't being explained for arbitrary reasons'.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote that Identity 'may
be a one trick pony, but it's quite a trick', while James Berardinelli's
Reelviews wrote that 'what starts out as a seemingly routine
excursion into genre clichés emerges into a more complex
and satisfying arena than most viewers will anticipate'.
JoBlo's Movie Emporium referred to it as 'one of the first
fun-time thrillers of the year', while LA Weekly felt it
was 'enjoyably swervy'.
Less convinced, however, was Hollywood Reporter, which
wrote that 'there is a great spoof comedy here, but, unfortunately,
writer Michael Cooney and director James Mangold play one of the
most ludicrous screenplays in recent memory in earnest'.
The Chicago Sun-Times, meanwhile, wrote that Identity
is 'a movie that seems to be on autopilot for the first two acts
and then reveals that it was not, with a third act that causes
us to rethink everything that has gone before'. It awarded it
three out of four stars.
E! Online graded it with a B and predicted that it will
'appeal to both horror aficionados and those looking for a good
mystery', while the New York Post felt that it 'builds
steadily from its smarter-than-your-average-horror-film beginnings
to a genuinely cunning psychological thriller'.
More lukewarm, however, was the New York Times, which
felt that 'it goes through its generic paces with enough flair
and mystery to keep you moderately entertained', while Variety
felt that it 'features a twist ending that will be as painfully
obvious to some as it will be a complete surprise to others'.
But perhaps summing it up best, was the Los Angeles Times,
which referred to it, quite simply, as 'fine escapist fare with
a saving sense of humor'.
Indielondon will deliver its verdict when the movie opens in
the UK at the end of June. Until then, our lips are sealed!!!