Anamorph (2007) a (mildly) belated review

One of the more fascinating things, after all this time writing this blog, is seeing what posts wind up being searched out by people and which aren’t.  Some post I was certain would get multiple views long after being posted…and didn’t.  Some I knew from the outset would be interesting for people for a limited time and were.  And some I wrote thinking they’d have a very short shelf life and was surprised to find they had staying power and people kept searching them out long after they were posted.

I’d like to think this happens because whatever I wrote was so fascinating, so blindingly unique, so intellectually challenging that of course people would come back to revel in my oh-so-brilliant analysis.

The cold hard reality, alas, is that I was simply very, very lucky stumbling onto a topic that people out there found interesting.  This then is one of those blogs that when I originally wrote it figured it would elicit some mild interest before fading away.  Today, nearly two years later, it still draws some interest.  From March of 2010, here’s my (mildly belated) review of a perplexing film called Anamorph.

So I’m feeling pretty damn sick over the weekend and, as the illness drains from my body and I’m feeling up for some light TV fare, I turn the television on and, on the IFC channel (or was it Sundance?!) a movie titled Anamorph begins.  Instantly I’m thrown…the title of this 2007 film sounds like it belongs to a kiddie TV show you’d find lodged between G. I. Joe and The Transformers on some lazy Saturday morning.  I watch on, realizing rather quickly that this movie is about as far from kiddie fare as you could imagine.

In fact, Anamorph turns out to be an ambitious, indeed overly ambitious film that can be accurately billed as something “inspired by” (or, if you’re less charitable ripping off) Se7en and Fight Club.  However, lest I sound too critical right off the bat, the movie does feature plenty of food for thought on its very own, even if the influences mentioned are there.

Anamorph features Willem Defoe as Stan Aubray, a NY detective who is at the start of the film presented as an introverted oddball.  He lectures at a school while (barely) still working at the Police Department.  Five years ago he was involved in the notorious “Uncle Eddie” serial killer case, and it now appears “Uncle Eddie” might be back.

But things aren’t always what they seem…

The short review:  The film is decent, well-acted, and keeps your interest through its run time.  However, there are so many elements to the story that ultimately are never appropriately resolved and, thus, confuse the viewer that I can’t unequivocably recommend it.  I suppose if what you’ve read so far has you intrigued, then give the film a whirl…just be prepared to not get tidy answers to all the questions posed.

Now, I’m going to get into the movie’s details, something I can’t do with giving a very clear…



Still there?

Ok, here we go:  I enjoy almost every type and genre of film.  Science fiction, fantasy, suspense, thriller, horror, comedy, drama…you name it and there’s a good chance I can offer an example of a film in said genre I’ve enjoyed.  Often, films in the various genres that make me think, or rather those that don’t spell everything out, are particularly intriguing.  2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic example of just that. There is little dialogue and much is left for the viewers to figure out.  The same goes for Mulholland Dr., perhaps my favorite David Lynch film.  I was absolutely confused by what was going on until we arrived at the audition scene.  Suddenly, I understood what Mr. Lynch was doing, and the film became, at least to me, absolutely fascinating.

With Anamorph we start with what appears to be your typical serial killer movie scenario.  Like Se7en, the serial killer is as brilliant as he is disturbed.  Our serial killer poses his victim’s bodies in increasingly bizarre “scenes” that he creates.  By making these elaborate scenes with the often grotesquely butchered bodies, our killer appears to be “talking” to his pursuers, bringing them into his insane world.

As mentioned before, “Uncle Eddie” first showed himself five years before.  Through the course of the movie, we find that a group of cops, including Defoe’s Stan, investigated the case until they thought they knew who the killer was.  They broke into this man’s house to arrest him and one of the cops, thinking the suspected “Uncle Eddie” was holding a gun (he wasn’t) shot him dead.  Despite this, the police are convinced they had the right man.  As if to prove the fact, the “Uncle Eddie” crimes suddenly ceased.

But, five years later, new victims appear and things become very muddy.  In public and before the media, the police department is certain these new killings are the work of a “copycat”.  In private, they appear less sure…Was Stan, the lead investigator in the original case, wrong in fingering who “Uncle Eddie” was?  Did the five year old raid kill an innocent man?  And if so, were these new killings the work of “Uncle Eddie”?  But can we completely discount the possibility that we are dealing with a copycat?  As the film moves along, there appears yet another question:  What exactly happened to the last female victim of “Uncle Eddie” some five years before?  Whatever it was, the young woman’s death and fleeting flashbacks the film shows suggest Stan and this woman had a very strong relationship.

What follows, in the present, are more victims, including one of the original officers on Stan’s group, and hidden messages in the scene of each crime.  The term “anamorph”, as we find, relates to clues left behind by the killer.  In this case, the killer is referring to old paintings that, when viewed head on, reveal an image.  When looked at from another, sometimes severe angle, a hidden image within the painting becomes apparent.  Our killer, as it turns out, is hiding clues in his artfully designed slaughters.

Given the hidden message concept, the viewer is thus clued in that we are dealing with hidden meanings in this movie, as well.

As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that Stan may have dirtier hands in this whole affair than is first apparent.  To begin, and as mentioned before, he has flashbacks to the events of five years before, from the raid to the last murder attributed to “Uncle Eddie”, the young woman Stan had some kind of relationship to.  In the flashback to that last murder, Stan arrives at the scene of the crime after the fact.  The last victim lies on a dock beside the water.  However, later in the film, Stan recounts to the woman’s friend that HE pulled her out of the water, that HE held her until she let out her last breath.  Yet clearly in his earlier flashbacks Stan arrives AFTER she is removed from the water and well AFTER she’s dead.  Adding further confusion to the whole thing is that later still in the film, Stan appears to have flashbacks of the woman being stabbed before falling into the water.  The flashbacks, up to that moment, were personal to Stan.  Were these flashbacks also Stan’s?  Did HE kill the woman?

That implication seems to be the case.  But where the film ultimately -and sadly- fails is that too much is left for the viewers to sort out, and details are left so vague that arguments can be made for too many alternatives.  For example, one could assume that Stan had an affair with this woman, and it went sour while he was investigating the original “Uncle Eddie” crimes.  Now (and I’m guessing here) it is possible, perhaps even probable, that Stan killed the woman and made it look like it was the work of “Uncle Eddie”.  After all, his police task force already had an idea who “Uncle Eddie” was and were closing in on the killer.  Stan, in this scenario, commits the “final” “Uncle Eddie” crime knowing the police (and he) will soon arrest the killer.  After Stan commits this crime and his group raids the suspected “Uncle Eddie” house, the man is killed, thus “resolving” the crimes without anyone suspecting that Stan performed that last murder.

Sounds good…except that if this was indeed the case, then Stan, to cover his tracks, has to be the one to kill the suspected “Uncle Eddie” in the raid.  After all, it is not in Stan’s interests that the man be taken alive.  If he were, there would be the very real possibility that this man might admit to all his crimes yet (of course) deny having anything to do with that last killing.  Once he does, and given Stan’s relationship with the last victim, wouldn’t the police begin to eye him as a suspect in that crime?  Thus and as mentioned, Stan has to be the one to kill the suspected “Uncle Eddie” in the raid.  He can’t just hope someone else does the deed.  But the fact is that Stan DOES NOT kill the suspected “Uncle Eddie”.  In fact, I didn’t even get the impression he was gunning for him during the raid at all.  If anything, he seemed to be hanging back.

So the mind wanders again…Perhaps Stan IS “Uncle Eddie”, and the man who committed these new crimes IS a copycat “Uncle Eddie”, albeit one that knows Stan was the original.  But that also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  The crimes are so damn elaborate that it seems impossible someone could simply “copy” something so extravagant.  And, further, if Stan was the real “Uncle Eddie”, then wouldn’t he have figured out the copycat and his methodology a whole lot quicker?  Add to the mix at least one character, an art dealer, who may or may not be a figment of Stan’s imagination and you’ve got even more confusion.

Still, despite all these criticisms, I admit the film kept me watching until its (very vague) ending.  So, to reiterate, I cannot recommend this film to those seeking a movie that offers at least some sort of clear resolution to the plot presented.  If you’re still curious to see the movie, do so.  But this is one case where I can’t help but wish the filmmakers offered more solid clues as to what path they wanted the viewers to follow.