Monday, August 15, 2011

Murder is an Art...

Hollywood has very few genres that they still throw money at, regardless of the product they're selling, and one of those is the serial killer thriller.  Ever since The Silence of the Lambs burned up the box-office and the Academy Awards, Hollywood has been trying to recapture lightning in a bottle.  There has been some success, such as Seven and Saw, then there are minor triumphs like Red Dragon and American Psycho, but like most genres that Hollywood often goes back to the well for there are more disappointments than there are failures.  Of course, like all genres, the films that interest me most are the under-appreciated or underrated films.  The ones that are very good and yet never got the recognition they deserve.  One of my absolute favorites stars one of my absolute favorite actresses alongside another powerhouse actress...which already makes one wonder why it wasn't more successful the year it was released.  However, thanks to being released alongside several other films of the same type, it fell by the wayside when it was released.  Now, thanks to the magic of Blu-ray the world can now rediscover this suspense yarn.  But before I gush too much, I'd better tell you something about the film first.  Strap in chaps, we're investigating the Copycat.

Dr. Helen Hudson is currently at the top of her game in the field of criminal psychology.  She is one of the leading experts in the study of serial murderers and what makes them tick, and she is such an expert that she is often brought in as an expert witness for the prosecution.  In fact, she recently helped put a serial killer named Darryl Lee Cullam in prison, but her life is shattered when Cullam escapes from prison and attacks her in a public restroom.  Although she survives, this sudden exposure to the realities of being a victim so traumatizes her that she retreats to the confines of her San Francisco apartment and becomes an intense agoraphobic.  Meanwhile, a new serial killer is stalking the streets of San Francisco and is currently baffling Inspector Mary-Jane Monahan.  Soon Monahan is knocking on Helen's door and asking for her professional insight and Helen reluctantly agrees, immediately discovering that the killer is copying famous serial killers from the past.  Unfortunately this is exactly what the copycat wants and soon he sets his sights on Helen.  Its up to Monahan and Helen to catch this killer, or Helen may very well be next.

On the surface, Copycat looks and feels like a Silence of the Lambs clone...which is perhaps why audiences chose to ignore this film, especially after the gruelling and groundbreaking Seven was released only months before.  The film certainly has those Silence moments that it hits...a tough cookie cop trying to find a killer and her only way of catching him is by seeking advice from an isolated expert who can't leave the place he/she sleeps.  Of course, what audiences missed was the many differences that made Copycat stand on its own.  First is the opening scene in the restroom where Sigourney Weaver (Dr. Hudson) is attacked by Harry Connick Jr. (Cullam) which shows that the film is not afraid to shoot for the unexpected in that it seems as if the woman we thought was our heroine might be killed off before the opening titles.  Then there is the aspect of agoraphobia imprisoning Helen within her own home which presents an obstacle to the investigation since she cannot look at crime scenes other than through photographs...but also invites and interesting look into 'invasion of personal space' when the killer begins to send her emails and phone messages and effectively spoiling the only space she feels safe before he physically invades it...and Helen is powerless to do anything about it because she is too afraid to leave.  Then there is Holly Hunter's Inspector Monahan, who presents a much different investigator from other films.  In other films, the cops never show any real issue with having to kill their suspect if it comes down to it, but with Monahan, we see a cop who detests killing.  She even chastises her partner Ruben Goetz (Dermot Mulroney) for "shredding" a test target when he could easily hit the gunman's shoulder.  This is a shot she puts into practice twice in the film, with good and bad results.  The decision not to kill unless completely necessary doesn't make her a better cop...but it does make her more complex.  The killer, who I shant reveal here, is also different than many Hollywood serial killers in that he doesn't look 'weird' or 'creepy' and manages to function perfectly well in the real world which ties him much better to real-world killers like Ted Bundy.  Its a change that people often don't accept as they believe that killers always look strange or creepy, even though history shows us that this is often not the case. All in all, Copycat is a suspenseful and solid serial killer film that is equal parts frightening and informative and deserves to be seen and given its due.

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