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Identity - Preview

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 life’s 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.

"It’s 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, what’s 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 it’s 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 you’re a kid: pretending who’s around the corner; what’s going on; pretending you’re acting.

"It’s real moody and a great exercise in make-believe."

US reaction...

The word on Identity was mainly positive... and with good reason. IndieLondon caught a screening earlier this month and is poised to rave.

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 us'.

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!!!


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