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ANAMORPH (director/writer: H.S. Miller; screenwriter: Tom Phelan; cinematographer: Fred Murphy; editor: Geraud Brisson; music: Reinhold Heil/Johnny Klimek; cast: Willem Dafoe (Stan Aubray), Scott Speedman (Carl Uffner), Clea Duvall (Sandy Strickland), James Rebhorn (Chief Lewellyn Brainard), Peter Stormare (Blair Collet), Deborah Harry (Neighbor), Amy Carlson (Alexandra Fredericks), Don Harvey (Killer), Samantha MacIvor(Crystal); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Marissa McMahon; IFC Films; 2007)
“Creepy, turgid and cerebral mind-game serial killer flick.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

H.S. Miller’s first feature film was shot on location in NYC. Miller directs and cowrites it with Tom Phelan. It’s a creepy, turgid and cerebral mind-game serial killer flick, that poses its serial killer as a better artist than the haunted cop hunting him down. Anamorph is a well-presented but nevertheless gloomy and murky mood piece of frightening tableaux, that feels edgy but never feels just right (there’s no character development other than the detective’s) and becomes too abstract to warm up to as anything but an oddball puzzler for those art lovers who are not squeamish and whose taste in paintings might run towards Francis Bacon.

The title is derived from a Renaissance art technique called anamorphosis, that manipulates the laws of perspective to create two competing images on a single canvas.

Stan Aubray (Willem Dafoe) is a lifeless, laconic, guilt-ridden, loner NYPD detective, who received fame five years ago for cracking the ‘Uncle Eddie’ serial killer case. The perp was killed in a raid by the police, and thereby it’s only the police’s version that they got the right guy–which they assume they did because there were no other follow-up incidents. When five years later a day trader is mutilated the same way as ‘Uncle Eddie’ did it (using his body parts to reproduce a famous art work) Stan is called in to help a young brash loquacious lead investigator Carl Uffner (Scott Speedman). This is the first case Stan has worked on since the infamous one that made his career as he spends his time now drinking booze out of tiny airliner bottles; buying antique chairs for his nearly bare NYC flat; wondering if he could have saved the life of the last victim Crystal (Samantha MacIvor), a street prostitute, if he warned her to stay out of the area where he was trying to flush out the killer; teaching at the Police Academy a course about homicide crime scenes; and hanging around with an eccentric art historian/antiques dealer (Peter Stormare), who helps him with the case through his art expertise. The press is calling this a copycat crime, and since the M.O. is the same as the ‘Uncle Eddie’ crimes it could be a copycat crime or perhaps they never got the real serial killer (as his partner Carl believes).

Eviscerated bodies keep popping up as gruesome works of art, with their bodies painted in blue, as the detective is forced to relive painful memories from the past as he investigates. His only female friend is a former prostitute named Sandy Strickland (Clea Duvall), with an alcohol problem, a friend of Crystal’s, who he keeps meeting when she donates blood. The killer seems to have a bead on the cop and has already killed one of the cops that killed the supposed serial killer and has been spotted hanging around the AA meetings that Sandy attends. Meanwhile the gaunt Stan works feverishly to reconstruct the crime scenes, in the process contaminating the evidence in order to get into the mindset of the killer.

This is a character driven movie, that has the obsessive compulsive detective, someone who is afraid to get close to people but is a tactile person, becoming the killer’s obsession and thereby becoming one with the killer.

It should work for a limited audience of the genre, even though it’s far from a satisfactory horror film–its story and characters are too paper thin. But its production values are top notch art design, though of the macabre kind. While Dafoe’s manic performance is the driving force behind this weird flick, even though the psychological thriller just can’t rise to be as good as Zodiac and would most likely not suit a mainstream audience because of all its odd touches, nuances, a puzzling conclusion and that it’s much to different from the usual Hollywood slasher film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”