Austin Film Festival Review: The Alphabet Killer


Director:Rob Schmidt

Cast:Eliza Dushku, Cary Elwes, Timothy Hutton, Martin Donovan, Michael Ironside

Running Time:100.00


The line "based on true events" has become a common phrase around Hollywood. From the likes of 21 and The Pursuit of Happiness, it seems that every director is just waiting to get their hands on a real story. However, like some things in Hollywood, many of these 'real' claims are a bogus lie. In fact, most of them are. From Rudy to Lean on Me, feature films have been falsely attaching the phrase in hopes that it will inspire a growth in box office receipts.

Now, amid all the controversy, Rob Schmidt is bringing his new psychological thriller The Alphabet Killer to the big screen, attaching the infamous phrase in the process. However, unlike many other films, this one seems to have at least some merit as many of the facts check out with the true occurrences that took place between 1971 and 1973.

In the film, Eliza Dushku plays Megan Paige, an obsessive police investigator whose commitment to the job borders on obsession. In fact, many credit her success on her ability to become infatuated with a given case. But when she is assigned to the case of a ten-year-old girl who was brutally raped and strangled, Megan hits a roadblock. Unable to come up with any answers, Megan becomes engrossed in the fact that each of the victims have double initials, and that their bodies were dumped in a town with the same initial as their name. This she knows is a killer's trademark, but can't seem to get anyone to agree that they are looking at the work of a serial killer. But that seems to be the last of her worries as Megan has begun to see ghosts of the dead victims; ghosts that will not leave until the case is solved.

While the film features a heavy mixed cast of mid-level stars and relative unknowns, only the work of Eliza Dushku and Cary Elwes really stands out among the masses. Most known for her work opposite Sarah Michelle Gellar on TV's 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' Dushku has experienced an up and down career in Hollywood. Thankfully, this film marks one of her high points as she presents a poised and confident investigator in Megan. Her moves, though not perfect, were adequately done, brining about the intensity and frustration that lies beneath the surface. Her facial expressions capture the moment as she speaks volumes with the slightest look, setting off a whirl-wind of thoughts that stay with your mind long after the scene has ended.

However, as the film progresses and Dushku is forced to take on the persona of a mentally insane woman, she stalls. Unable to fully transcend between the two characters, Dushku loses her part, never fully regaining it until the film's final minutes.

Cary Elwes, known for his roles in The Princess Bride and the original Saw, plays Captain Kenneth Shine, a supporting character who proves to be the ideal compliment to Dushku. Throwing caution to the wind, Megan often finds herself too caught up in the events of a given case. It is then that Shine enters the picture, bringing her back to reality and helping her to somewhat balance her personal and professional lives. His physical presence in the film is somewhat unnecessary; however, in the ideal aspect, Captain Kenneth Shine is a force that is not only necessary, but also comforting.

Needless to say, neither of these two performances would mean much if writer Tom Malloy hadn't decided to make this series of events into a suspenseful film. By doing so, he not only shines light on one of the most disturbing cases involving the New York City police force, but he generates a new kind of psychological thriller; one that doesn't require the intense, adrenaline pumping scenes that have become the benchmark of Hollywood. Instead, he relies on a person's thoughts and process of thinking, making you become your own source of fright.

Sadly, though the story was strong, the dialogue was a bit rough as lines seemed to be forced and unflattering in many ways. As a result, the film is difficult to get into as you must work to overlook what is being said and concentrate on the character interactions. A disappointing, though expected assignment for a film within the thriller genre.

As for the direction, it wasn't the follow-up to U-Turn that Rob Schmidt was hoping for. Flooded with inexperience, Schmidt appears to have held back in many instances, unsure of his next move and unconfident with his personal direction. As a result, the film suffers drastically, going from a strong display of emotion and turmoil to one of utter disappointment.

As a result, the film is decent. Not spectacular and most definitely not disastrous, simply decent.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.

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