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Identity [15]

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Ten strangers stranded in a motel. Who's the killer?

A doctor reviews his files on a psychiatric patient, Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince). Rivers is about to be executed for murdering six people even though he suffers from multiple personality disorder and has no memory of the event, and the doctor is hoping to win him an eleventh hour reprieve by proving diminished responsibility on the grounds of insanity. Meanwhile, a sequence of incredible coincidences and accidents leads a group of ten people to be stranded together in a rainstorm at an isolated motel. As the guests are killed one by one in highly unusual circumstances, and the bodies mysteriously disappear, the confused survivors struggle to work out what it is that connects their identities and fates before it is too late.

Director James Mangold ('Heavy', 'CopLand', 'Girl, Interrupted') has assembled a stellar cast, including John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Alfred Molina, and the ever dependable Amanda Peet (seen most recently in 'Igby Goes Down'); and he knows how to ratchet up the tension, making all involved look as though they are harbouring some dark secret, and even transforming the rain itself into a brooding, malevolent force.

The primary inspiration for 'Identity' is 'Psycho', and like Hitchcock's film, here too there is a thief on the run who seeks refuge from the rain in a motel, there is a creepy hotel manager, and the first person to die is wrapped in a shower curtain. Indeed all the tropes which make up 'Identity'- a group of mismatched characters forced together by circumstance, a murderous traitor in their midst, a Native American burial ground, baroque deaths - have been seen before in countless horror films, slash-and-dashers and Dario Argento-style 'gialli', making 'Identity' seem as old school as thrillers come.

Yet Mangold gets the sheer number of both his influences and his characters to confuse and distract the viewer, rather than give the game away; and although it is possible to work out which of the ten was the guilty party long before the conclusion, the central twist which unifies all the film's elements is so ingenious and unusual that recognising the killer ends up being just one small part of this film's multi-faceted identity.

Anton Bitel , 17/06/03

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