Ah, the art of Mood. Where have you gone? When did you go away? I’ve missed you. But now you’re back and it’s good to see you again, even if you are freaking the heck out of me. It’s been a long time, Mood, and I’m afraid your stay is going to be but a short one. You’ve been cast in Identity. John Cusack is the star. Ray Liotta and Amanda Peet headline the list of co-stars. But everyone knows you’re the one that makes this smart horror tick.
It was a dark and stormy night – I’ve heard that one too many times to pay notice. But here it’s impossible to ignore. It’s the catalyst for the story and Mood shows up ready for the challenge to make good on the literary cliché. Rain is falling, pouring, puddling, flooding. The roads are washed out. There’s nowhere to go except a decrepit hotel that on any other day would be infested with cockroaches if they weren’t hiding from the rain. Fate brings everyone to the hotel: a chauffeur (Cusack), a cop (Liotta), his prisoner (Jake Busey), a hooker (Peet), a movie star (Rebecca De Mornay), a family and a couple of newlyweds who have already skipped the lovey-dovey newlywed stage and headed straight to a lifetime of bickering. It almost sounds like a modern remake of Gilligan’s Island minus the S.S. Minnow. But one-by-one the guests start dying and not in a peaceful, in-their-sleep fashion. Nope, these deaths are violent. Some might be accidents, others not so accidental. And thanks in large part to Mood, it’s pretty darned scary.
Today’s horrors can be divided into two broad sub-genres: the thrasher and the psychological horror. The thrasher can be defined by its excessive gore and, often, excessive self awareness (which was really only fresh in Scream and parts of its sequel). Thrashers frequently have a monster or serial killer at the heart of the horror. Think Freddy Kreuger, Jason or Michael Myers. The psychological horror is more like a well-told campfire story. It puts an emphasis on setting to create a tense atmosphere where even the slightest change in environment can bring on a severe case of goose bumps or heebie-jeebies. Think The Sixth Sense, The Ring or The Devil’s Backbone. Identity blends the two sub-genres and the results are sometimes gross, sometimes mind-bending, always creepy.
Big, scary monsters or serial killers in masks aren’t necessary to scare people. Fear is a feeling, a reaction that encompasses all of the senses. If one sense doesn’t buy it you’re not going to find yourself wrapped up in the situation, situating yourself on the edge of your seat. Identity provides gore for those who are freaked out by the sight of blood. There’s also the psychological madness that goes with being stalked in a place cut off from the outside world.
The script asks that you go with the story’s leaps in reality but in the end it all makes sense – sort of. But in a good way. The writing seems to play off the fact that the audience is going to have question marks above their heads at many points. Amongst the horror there is an Agatha Christie whodunit that keeps you guessing who, or possibly what, is responsible for the rash of murders.
But in the end it all comes back to Mood. The story, the setting, the characters, the twists – none would work if it weren’t for the feel of Identity. The previews I saw made the movie look to be a joke. And it would have had it not been from the rain, lightning and abundance of puddles that come with a genuinely dark and stormy night.