Eliza Dushku - Megan Paige
Cary Elwes - Captain Kenneth Shine
Timothy Hutton - Richard Ledge
Tom Malloy - Officer Steven Harper
Michael Ironside - Captain Nathan Norcross
Tom Noonan - Captain Ray Guilikson
Bill Moesley - Carl Tanner
Genre - Thriller/Drama/Crime/Psychological/Supernatural/Serial Killers
Running Time - 98 Minutes
THE ALPHABET KILLER is very loosely based on the Alphabet Killer case, where murders took place in Rochester, New York between 1971 and 1973. Three young girls who had first and last names starting with the same letter were found after being raped, strangled, and found as their bodies were dumped in a nearby neighborhood with the same name as the victim. Even though the case was heavily investigated, the killer was never found.
The film itself keeps the important elements of the real case, but pretty much changes everything else. A young girl named Carla Castillo has been murdered and her body was dumped in Churchville, a town neighboring Rochester. Megan Paige (Eliza Dushku) is the lead detective for the case. Megan doesn't believe the three "Cs" involved in this murder are of any coincidence, involving herself very deeply into the case. In fact, she gets so involved that she starts seeing ghosts of the victims haunting her, especially Carla's. Megan, unable to deal with these hallucinations, attempts suicide. Luckily, she's rescued by her then-boyfriend and fellow detective Kenneth Shine (Cary Elwes) and Megan is diagnosed by schizophrenia.
Two years pass and Megan is recovering due to therapy, medication, and her mental health sponsor, Richard (Timothy Hutton). She's now assigned as a desk cop, doing mainly paperwork and taking phone calls, due to the city not being able to fire her. Soon enough, another young girl is murdered with the same profile - matching initials and her body being found in a neighbor starting with the same letter. Megan puts herself back on to the case, against Kenneth's [who is now captain] wishes, eventually succumbing to the ghosts of the victims. Quickly losing her mind again, Megan must solve the case before it's too late.
STORY - I really wanted to like THE ALPHABET KILLER. I'm a huge fan of movies that deal with serial killers, like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, SE7EN, COPYCAT, and ZODIAC. Plus the film has an interesting cast with likeable characters such as Eliza Dushku, Cary Elwes, Timothy Hutton, Bill Moseley, and so on. Plus the film is based on a true case, so you'd think the film would follow it enough to make things interesting. Unfortunately THE ALPHABET KILLER ends up being a major disappointment, due to a really lame script that wastes all parties involved.
One of the major problems with the film stems from Megan's character. This brings the film down because she's the lead character and the only one in the film that has some sort of development and character arc going for her, while the other characters stand by the sidelines not doing much of anything interesting of note. And while she seems like a person devoted to her job, we have no idea why she's so obsessed with this serial killer case or why she's even seeing these little girls that may or may not be real. For one, obsession has to stem from somewhere in your psyche. What is Megan missing in her life that drives this woman to go to the lengths she does? She has a boyfriend in Kenneth, which is never developed. In fact, this lack of development creates problems later on - especially when Kenneth hires Megan back to the police force and eventually lets her handle the Alphabet Killer case - even though they have broken up over the fact that she went mental over this case to begin with. If you know her issues were triggered by this very case, why would you put her back on it? It makes no sense other than the fact that it has to happen for the story to work.
Plus, is Megan really schizophrenic or dealing with spirits haunting her into finding their killer? While I believe it's the latter, you're never really sure because we don't know anything about her. Does she have a history of mental illness? Is she a medium? Is it both? Who knows! The film never really explores Megan's struggles, using this plot device as a cheap way to make us watch Megan suffer so we can sympathize with her. It would have made the film, and Megan's character, stronger if the film had chose one. If she was schizophrenic, fine. If she can see ghost girls, fine. But don't confuse the audience by creating an unsolved mystery for both. This supernatural aspect takes away from the true life story to where it just exists as a time frame rather than a serious plot point. I wouldn't have minded the supernatural aspect if there were solid answers to back up its existence.
Speaking of the supernatural presence, the ghost girls look ridiculous. Instead of looking like actual spirits of the girls themselves, they reek of the overdone Asian horror ghosts that has infiltrated modern ghost movies. They look generic and not scary, making me wish Megan was just schizophrenic instead of a Ghost Whisperer.
What's also generic is the set up for the killer, which is funny since the real case is still unsolved. It could have gone the way of ZODIAC, where we kind of speculate who the killer is but we're never really sure. Plus the suspected killer in that film was developed enough for audiences to invest in the story. No such luck in THE ALPHABET KILLER. The killer is painfully predictable and obvious. What makes it worse is that we don't know what this person's motives were or what this person's background is to send him/her down this path. Sometimes it works if the killer is revealed sooner than later. But when the protagonists are searching for this person and the person in question doesn't appear and even have a significant presence until the very end, what's the point?
I will say that the dialogue, besides the horrible monologue at the very end, isn't all that bad. It's just generic and contrived. Plus the opening twenty minutes of the film are actually pretty solid enough to suck you in. It's the other seventy minutes that will try your patience and logic.
DIRECTION - The direction by Rob Schmidt, who directed 2000's SUBURBIA and 2003's WRONG TURN, is credible enough. For a low budget film, the production values are very solid as the film looks great. I liked how the colors weren't so vibrant, but washed out and very bleak. The darker scenes could have used more light, but it is what it is. The editing and composition for many of the scenes are also well presented. Unfortunately, Schmidt has no idea how to pace this kind of film, making it feel twice as long as it actually is. Plus the visuals can't compensate for a lost script that doesn't do anyone any favors. It's a nice attempt, but nothing all that impressive.
EDGE FACTOR - THE ALPHABET KILLER is pretty tame. The foul language is standard and the film isn't all that violent except for the final act and during a messed up hostage situation. As for nudity, you do get to see a quick glimpse of Eliza Dushku's boobs. But getting through this film to get to see that isn't really worth it.
ACTING - The acting is mixed. Eliza Dushku is a likeable actress who's protrayed some great roles. But she's completely miscast and over her head here as Megan. For playing someone supposedly suffering with a mental illness, Dushku had no idea what to do with that very important aspect of her character. Yes, she plays a good haunted and obsessed person - but it feels forced rather than inspired by what her character is going through. I wonder if Dushku was aware whether or not she was schizo or seeing ghosts - probably would have helped. When she's not dealing with this part of her character, Dushku is competent but it isn't her best performance by a mile. The other actors are likeable enough, but don't get all that much to do. Cary Elwes, Bill Moseley, Michael Ironside, and Timothy Hutton deserve better characters than what they were given, but take what they have and portray it well. I didn't hate the acting here, but coming from a cool cast like this, it's pretty disappointing that they weren't able to act their best due to the dud script.
THE FINAL HOWL
I don't hate THE ALPHABET KILLER. It's not even close to the worst film I've seen, but it's still far away from the best. This thriller is below average due to a confusing and boring story with supernatural elements that only created more questions than answers. Plus Eliza Dushku deserved much better than this, since this particular role didn't fit her whatsoever. Can't really recommend this one except to those who like the actors involved. You're probably better off spelling words in your bowl of alphabet soup.
1.5 Howls Outta 4