Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John Hawkes, Alfred Molina, Clea Duvall, John C. McGinley, William Lee Scott, Jake Busey, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Rebecca DeMornay
Director: James Mangold
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 90 Minutes
Release Date: September 2, 2003

“What happened at the motel?”

“People started dying.”

Film ****

Is it ever possible that a movie can be both scary and smart at the same time? After watching Identity, I can certainly say that it is. It is a purely exhilarating mixture of psychological suspense and slasher horror that I believe would make Hitchcock proud of the genre he helped to create. It’s not everyday you see a movie of this sort with such a strong ensemble cast. Most of today’s scare fare, even the good ones, include a cast of young and unknown teen actors. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just made me happy that some gifted heavy duty actors climbed on board to give this project a shot. 

The most intriguing aspect of the film, and it has many, is the way the screenplay plays a strong trick on the audience. The first two quarters of the movie include something of a traditional scary movie setup; along with a few traditional lines of dialogue you have a good chance of hearing in almost every film in this genre. Yet, by the time you find yourself scratching your head thinking if the film is way too formulaic, a jolt of a plot twist explodes before you, and you realize how unique and original the movie really is. There’s rarely been a mainstream movie to execute such a tricky move. In addition, the script manages to be just as clever with its formulaic appearances.

“As I was going up the stairs…”

Set on a dark and extremely stormy night, somewhere in Nevada, a group of individuals find themselves stranded at a desert based motel due to flooding of all nearby exit routes. A clever dose of exposition is done to reveal that all of the characters possibly met through fate, in the form of a fatal automobile accident. The characters consists of limo driver and ex-cop Ed (John Cusack), who’s driving washed up film star Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca DeMornay) to L.A., Paris (Amanda Peet) a street smart call girl looking to start her life over in the town she grew up, Lou (William Lee Scott) and Ginny (Clea Duvall) are a just-married couple but don’t seem happy under the circumstances, slow-witted George (John C. McGinley) who carries with him a mute stepson and a wife, who was injured in the accident. In addition, there’s the motel owner, Larry (John Hawkes), and Rhodes (Ray Liotta), a cop transporting a convicted killer (Jake Busey).

As the endlessly rainy night proceeds, a series of grisly murders start to take place, and the ten strangers find themselves being picked off one by one. A few victims down the line, they begin to question one another’s background and motives, as any one of them could indeed be the killer. When the survivors realize a similar pattern in the killings, they soon discover that this is quite possibly an unsolvable puzzle of horrific proportions.

“…I met a man who wasn’t there...”

Meanwhile, in a parallel plotline, a psychiatrist (Alfred Molina) is requesting a stay of execution of mental patient Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince). As Malcolm is scheduled to be executed in 24 hours, for a series of killings that he was found guilty of, the shrink has rightly demanded a delay due to newly found evidence that could very well prove the patient to be insane. A judge grants a spur of the moment hearing 11 hours prior to the scheduled execution for the doctor to prove his case.

I can absolutely risk no more plot revelation, as I’ve already felt as if I’ve revealed too much already. I will say that the movie masters a remarkable maneuver in revealing its many twists. At about an hour into the movie, you get the feeling as though you have been thrown to one side of the room, and about five minutes later, thrown to the other side and so on. That’s the feeling of experiencing this one of a kind chiller, all the way to the utterly mind blowing shocker of an ending. To give you an idea of how blown away I was by the ending, I rank it right up there with that of the closing of Sleepaway Camp.

“…he wasn’t there again today…”

Director James Mangold and screenwriter Michael Cooney should be given endless credit for weaving together such a unique and chilling nailbiter. Mangold, who directed Cop Land and Girl, Interrupted, had never made this kind of movie before. As for Cooney, he had a bit of experience in the genre, as he penned and directed the direct-to-video schlock horror movies Jack Frost and Jack Frost 2. I guess it’s safe to assume that given their track record, one making heartfelt dramas and the other intentionally corny horror flicks, you wouldn’t expect the two to deliver something in the form of Identity, but did they ever pull it off?

As mentioned earlier, you know that a genre picture like this has to have something going for it when it has attracted some of the best talent in the biz. In Identity, this ensemble line up represents the real deal, as each actor delivers the individual goods. John Cusack is pitch-perfect as the guilt ridden limo driver whose predicament forces him to face his doomed past as a cop. The big scene stealer of the movie is John Hawkes as the paranoia-fueled motel manager, who always seems like two cards shy of a full deck, and with good reason. Ray Liotta it at his usual manic best, and let me just say for the record that the sight of Rebecca DeMornay was something of a plus for me. I certainly hope that this is an indication of future appearances from her.

“…I wish, I wish he’d go away.”

To sum it all up right on the dot, Identity is the ultimate fix for fans of both psychological suspense and horror movie buffs. Of all the mainstream scare fare released over the last several years, this one easily gets my vote as the top pick of the crop in terms of being stylish, clever, and bone-chillingly frightening. Indeed, one of the year’s very best films.

Video ****

Columbia Tri Star is experiencing, as always, a marvelous year for top flight all around quality discs, and Identity soars on every level. Starting with fantastic video job, which is in much consideration for top choice for the next DMC Awards, as far as I’m concerned. The anamorphic picture (a full screen version is also included) absorbs every last aspect of the frame of the picture. Taking place entirely at night, with a few daytime sequences on the side, the picture never manages to let up for a single second, delivering endless crispness and clarity for all 90 minutes. Colors, as always, are a hundred percent natural and alive. Without a doubt, one of the best looking discs of 2003!

Audio ****

When seeing this in the theater, I knew this was going to sound incredible on DVD, and I had never been so right. The sound of rain and thunder have never had more of a presence than in this film, and the 5.1 mix does a remarkable job of delivering the sound effects so convincingly, that it seems as if it’s happening right outside your home. My cohort, Mike, had informed me that this is the best audio track he’s heard this year thus far, and I am in total agreement with him. This presentation delivers in everyway possible, be it dialogue, musical score, and especially in moments of jolting terror. High marks all the way!

Features ****

Columbia Tri Star never holds a thing back when it comes to their Special Edition titles, and Identity contains a first from the studio. The highlight extra is an optional branched version of the movie that includes an extra scene, as well as an alternate ending (This version can only be viewed with the widescreen version). Commentary by director James Mangold is included, on both versions of the movie. Additional extras include deleted scenes with optional commentary, storyboard comparisons, a Starz On the Set making-of featurette, a trailer, and selected filmographies.


Identity is one of the best films of the year, and is nothing short of a multi-genre revelation. It will draw you in with its terrific setup, knockout execution, and most startling finish. It just might usher in a bold new technique of contemporary scare fare.