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IDENTITY
Blu-ray Edition

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 De Mornay
Director: James Mangold
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Sony
Features: See Review
Length: 90 Minutes
Release Date: April 3, 2007

“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, includes 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 De Mornay) 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 nail biter. 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 damn if they didn’t 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 De Mornay 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.

Video ****

Sony’s initial DVD release of the movie boasted, in my opinion, one their best transfers of all time. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to see what the Blu-ray version had in store for me. And having seen it, I can honestly say that Identity is one of the truly best Blu-ray presentations I’ve seen yet. For a movie that takes place entirely during a dark and rainy night, the level of excellence in the picture quality is deserving of the highest praise possible. The image detail is astounding through the entire presentation, as are colors and tones. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the most incredible movies one could ever see on Blu-ray!

Audio ****

Nor am I exaggerating when I say that the sound performance on this Blu-ray is one of the best ones yet (we’re talking Top 3 status). I had yet to experience a horror thriller on Blu-ray, so I figured I’d go with one of the best of the genre. By way of the uncompressed 5.1 mix, you won’t be able to hear rainfall in the same way again. It’s an important character in the film, and is heard consistently in the background, thus providing a truly effective presentation of sound. Throughout the movie, you get all sorts of sounds coming from various areas, making fantastic use of surround sound. This is without question a movie that illustrates the superb power of the Blu-ray format!

Features ***

Though the extras here are pretty much the same as the regular DVD release, there is one feature exclusive to this Blu-ray edition, which is a new commentary track with screenwriter Michael Cooney (which I don’t think is even indicated on the back of the case). As for the rest of the extras, we get the original commentary with director James Mangold, as well as four deleted scenes with optional commentary from Mangold. We also get three Storyboard Comparisons and a Starz “On the Set” featurette on the making of the film.

Summary:

Identity, for me, remains one of the most chilling horror thrillers I’ve ever experienced. It’s also a movie that gets even more tremendous with repeated viewings, and seeing it on Blu-ray was like experiencing it for the first time. It’s one of the best presentations I’ve seen on the format, and it’s a release that all Blu-ray enthusiasts should add to their library.

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