Compared to the rest of OTHís reviewers, Iím a bit of a baby. This isnít just because of my age, but based on my lifespan of horror watching. It wasnít until 2003 that I started to peep through the forbidden genreís resume. To be true with you, 2004 was the year that I really started to become a fan. The A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, Dreamcatcher, IT, Friday the 13th and remakes of the age were dabbed around me from time to time. Identity was one thriller that managed to surprise me greatly, as it turned out to be a brilliant psychological slasher film with microscopic faults and a powerful cast. Set at a motel, it was almost a combination of Psycho and And Then There Were None, where the tenants are being picked off one by one. I thought it was superb back when I had only slightly skimmed horrorís folder, but even now, it stands out as one of the best slasher films ever made, and itís no wonder that both Ebert and Roeper loved it too.
Shock strikes when Alice York (Leila Kenzle) is hit by a car one rainy night, driven by chauffeur Ed (John Cusack) with 80s TV actress Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca De Mornay) in back. Aliceís nervous husband George (John C. McGinley) and young son Timmy (Bret Loehr) rush to the nearest stop with the other carís occupants, which happens to be a motel. The manager of the motel, Larry (John Hawkes), lets them in, and is soon bombarded with a new set of colorful characters. Couple Ginny (Clea DuVall) and Lou (William Lee Scott) take shelter from the storm, followed by prostitute Paris (Amanda Peet), a cop named Rhodes (Ray Liotta) and the officerís convict, Robert (Jake Busey). With the horrible weather outside, a wounded woman in one of the rooms, and phone services out of reach, nobody is going anywhere. As the characters briefly mingle with one another, one of the new guests is found decapitated. The convict has gone missing and tempers flare. Another person is murdered, and with each new member of deathís tribe, a single motel room key is left. 10...9...8...7. Itís a bloody countdown. Meanwhile, serial killer Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is being examined the day before his execution for possible release, in another past, present, or future court setting. Is Malcolm the killer at the motel, or is there something more to the story than first meets the eye?
Of all the slasher movies that I have seen, few have gathered such a diverse and memorable cast as Identity. Love-to-hate characters like the self-absorbed actress Caroline are fun to watch even when you see how idiotic and terrible they are as human beings. Larry the manager is a greaseball with a comical touch, and Paris the hooker holds up strong as a good lady even when her morals have drifted off. The camera work is professional and this vacation becomes an apparent high budget art. I canít believe that this cost thirty million dollars to make, as the sets are wonderfully simple, and there are not too many effects. I am guessing that this is due in part to the Ďwell known actorsí curse. The most pleasing aspect of how you feel when watching Identity is that it does not give off that depressing, gritty feel that perhaps modern torture flicks attempt, but remains stylish and mint even when the body count continues. Moments where the stranded group speak to each other keeps our attention even when the conversation is about nothing important because we, the audience, are always searching for answers to what is going on at this cute little stay-in.
Itís not very gory, however, Identityís violence is strong and brutal, keeping the horror atmosphere alive. In a scene similar to that of My Bloody Valentine, John Cusack hears a thudding sound coming from the laundry room, where he continues to open up load after load until finally revealing the severed head of the actress, in what is the movieís goriest piece. Another vicious kill is made later with a baseball bat, and as creative as it is, it only minimally adds to the tone of Identity. Where in most slasher outings, the method of killing often matters a great deal to the overall product, Mangoldís cinema punch turns the subgenre on its side when the viewer finds him or herself far more interested in why or how everything happens compared to who is going to die next. Iíll be honest though. The repeated deaths are a pleasure and an interest as we like to find out who is going to make it to the end. Some surprises take hold of us as we leech onto most figures, worried to see another undeserving regular human get wiped off the scene.
Itís difficult for me to find things negative to say about a film that heightened my love immensely for the whodunit and slasher world, especially one that was picked out to watch by my father. I expected a cop thriller travelling through a personís I.D. history; nothing close to this ever touched my expectancies. In the first half hour, youíll have questions and comments about how people might be acting. ĎLike that would happen!í ĎWhat are the chances...?í ĎFor someone who knows a lot about that, they sure donít...í Let me assure you, as hard as it is to see at a beginning point, everything can be explained, the seemingly farfetched isnít so unbelievable anymore, and best of all, itís all logical and acceptable. The use of room keys as corpse markers is a great lead up for suspense. Itís always edge-of-your-seat drama as red herrings are picked off, and the collection of people start to learn things about each other that make them all connected in some way.
Cusack and Liotta take charge in finding out who is massacring this quaint inn, and the rest are ordered to stay put. Inevitably, everybody run about. Keeping horror deep in its roots, Identity kind of morphs from a slasher frenzy to a crime thriller with guns and realizations. And have you forgotten about the serial killer Malcolm Rivers? Clips of him with attorneys and such teeter in between the motel events and accusations, and we come to see why his storyline is relevant in a spectacular road trip through one of the best psychological stunners of the decade. Thereís a twist, and then thereís another twist, and then another twist. If you like your slasher films standard, thatís fine, but for once if youíll allow yourself to be swept away by a noteworthy conclusion, you wonít be sorry. Identity is action, terror and hidden secrets within a maze of satisfactory moments revealing themselves one after another.
Itís hard to believe that some people think this movie is crap, and this is the reason why Identity makes it to the Unsung Treasures section at OTH. Hefty emotions are derived from each and every motel person, and then some. Using rich atmosphere, caring individuals, and a wondrous finale, thereís no reason to feel cheated after purchasing. And you will be purchasing it. Seeing it again reassures this. Even when you know everything thatís about to happen, itís magic all over again, and not once does it lose its impact. On a Columbia Pictures special edition disc, Identity is included in its full frame and widescreen format, as well as theatrical and extended cut. However, the extended cut really isnít much of a difference. The sound was muffled in one shot with Cusack, but aside from that, it sounds great. The picture is as vibrant as the film it plays for, and there is a handful of extras. Directorís commentary, deleted scenes, storyboard comparisons, theatrical trailer, filmographies and even a Starz special Ďon the setí spotlight join the movie in the best release as of yet for it. Itís a triumph to find out that the Identity of this victorious gem is one youíll want to cherish for a long time, what with it being Essential!