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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Identity: SE (2003)

"As I was going up the stairs, I met a man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. I wish, I wish he'd go away."
- Ed (John Cusack)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: January 15, 2004

Stars: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John Hawkes, Alfred Molina, Clea DuVall, John C. McGinley, William Lee Scott, Jake Busey, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Rebecca DeMornay
Director: James Mangold

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for (strong violence and language)
Run Time: 01h:29m:57s
Release Date: September 02, 2003
UPC: 043396005396
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-AA+ B

DVD Review

A rainy desert night. A dilapidated motel on a lonely two-lane road. An oddball desk clerk. Murder.

Such a premise may sound like a rip-off of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, but Identity is very much its own movie—and a very good, very scary one at that. Director James Mangold (Kate & Leopold, Girl, Interrupted) takes a classic B-movie blueprint and gussies it up with plenty of creepy atmosphere, slick camera work, sharp editing, and characters that—surprise!—actually possess some depth. The result is a stylish, unsettling, but totally engrossing exercise in horror.

The carnage may be predictable, but Identity never sinks to the level of a Freddy or Jason slash-fest. Michael Cooney's taut screenplay travels back and forth in time, throws a barrage of curveballs, and peppers itself with a few heart-stopping jolts to keep viewers on edge. Yet such devices are only a warm-up for the climactic plot twist, which truly sets the film apart from its more gratuitous and clichéd counterparts. Unlike other genre entries that feature a parade of idiotic teens marching cluelessly to the slaughterhouse, Identity inspires us to think and probe throughout, while the claustrophobic setting almost makes us feel like we're in the movie, too. Mangold keeps gore to a minimum and often cuts away from violence, wisely believing the human imagination can concoct far more grisly images than any Hollywood makeup artist. Instead, he lingers on the prelude to horror, ratcheting up tension levels to unbearable degrees.

As the opening credits roll, Dr. Malick (Alfred Molina) peruses the psychiatric file of serial killer Malcolm Rivers before an eleventh hour stay-of-execution hearing at the local courthouse. Malick believes Rivers' death sentence should be commuted, and the murderer locked up in a mental hospital. On this dark and stormy night, however, the prisoner must be carted from his maximum-security jail cell to the hearing, so his condition can be evaluated.

Cut to the open road, where we meet most of our motley crew of characters and discover how they wind up stranded at the rundown, no-name motel where the bulk of action (and killing) transpires. There's chauffeur Ed (John Cusack) and his bitchy passenger, TV star Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca DeMornay); high-class hooker Paris (Amanda Peet), on the run from her sleazy Vegas past; newlyweds Ginny (Clea DuVall) and Lou (William Lee Scott); the happy, nerdy York family, composed of father George (John C. McGinley), mother Alice (Leila Kenzle) and young son Timmy (Bret Loehr); and the tough, macho Rhodes (Ray Liotta), who's transporting a dangerous criminal (Malcolm Rivers, perhaps?) to an undisclosed location. And let's not forget the overwhelmed motel clerk, Larry (John Hawkes), who tries to juggle the egos and attitudes of his frenzied guests.

Giving away too much more would spoil the fun, so suffice it to say that someone starts bumping off the lodgers one by one. At first, the suspect's identity seems clear, but soon it appears supernatural forces might also have a hand in the random elimination. (Or maybe it's not so random...) Who's next and why are just two of the urgent questions the dwindling survivors seek to answer.

Identity cleverly pays homage to a couple of its classic precursors, most notably the memorable 1945 Agatha Christie mystery, And Then There Were None, which follows a similar (albeit more sophisticated) group of guests through their systematic disappearance on a remote British island. Astute viewers will also notice an additional sly reference to Psycho, as DeMornay's character drapes a shower curtain over her head so she can venture into the pouring rain in search of a cell phone signal. (She should have stayed inside.) These subtle touches add texture to the film and provide welcome tension relief.

Mangold constructs an irresistibly treacherous mood, and combines lush colors with the stark, broken-down setting to create a seductive visual environment. In addition, the pounding rain, quaking thunder, and constant lightning flashes make the storm an omnipresent force of evil that hangs over all the characters, while supplying striking images and a foreboding audio accompaniment.

Thrillers, however, live and die by their characters, and Identity boasts a finely drawn gallery brought to life by adept actors, who infuse their roles with dimension and depth. Sure, a few caricatures exist for comic relief, but the performers play them straight and resist the urge to overact. It's not often one gets to witness tight ensemble work in a horror film, but the cast of Identity bonds together, so the viewer can bond with and care about the people they inhabit. Cusack especially files a moving, multi-layered portrayal, while the drop-dead-gorgeous Peet proves she's far more than a pretty face. Her strength, conviction, and tough/tender attitude nicely compliments Cusack's brooding and Liotta's overbearing machismo.

Although the denouement goes too far, Identity keeps us spellbound from beginning to end. The pace and suspense never let up, while Mangold's technique and the dead-on performances of a top-notch cast make this eerie, deliciously magnetic chiller a modern classic.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: The disc preserves the original, theatrical 2.40:1 aspect ratio (presented in anamorphic widescreen) and also includes a full-frame pan-and-scan version. Both enjoy exceptional clarity, beautifully saturated colors, and an absence of any annoying print defects. Although almost the entire film takes place at night and in a driving rainstorm, the level of detail remains outstanding throughout. Deep, rich blacks, natural fleshtones, and solid contrast also distinguish this high quality transfer. Kudos to Columbia!

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack is even better. Decked out in a tremendously potent DD 5.1 mix, Identity sounds spectacular, with excellent, distinct directionality among all five speakers, almost constant surround activity, and clear, crisp rendering of all the atmospheric effects. Utterly enveloping, the combination of the persistent rain, rumbling thunder, and Alan Silvestri's sinister music score draw the viewer deep inside the film and make us feel as if we're guests at the motel, too. Despite all the subtle shadings and competing elements, dialogue is always crystal clear, and no matter how intense the track gets, distortion is never an issue. Bass frequency is rich, but never overpowering, and helps heighten tension while providing a few surprising jolts. It's tough to imagine how Identity would play without this terrific, intricate track—one of the best of its kind I've heard.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director James Mangold
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Branched version with additional scene and alternate ending
Extras Review: Although this disc doesn't offer quite as many extras as most special edition releases, it includes a respectable spate of interesting supplements that add context and perspective to the film.

First of all, Identity can be watched two different ways. In addition to the original theatrical version of the film, a rather lame branched version (with an additional scene and alternate ending) can also be accessed. If you select the latter option, the new material is seamlessly edited into the movie, yet in this case the differences are nominal at best. The much ballyhooed alternate ending isn't a different ending at all, just an ever-so-slight variation on the original, featuring a few blink-and-you'll-miss-them inserts that add nothing to the film. Ditto the additional scene, which is merely an elongated version of an existing sequence.

So skip the branched version, but by all means don't miss the disc's best supplement, director James Mangold's highly informative and engaging commentary track. Mangold provides insights into the production process and fascinating behind-the-scenes anecdotes in a fluid, articulate manner. He speaks of his initial attraction to "single location films" and how almost the entire movie was shot on the same indoor soundstage that once housed the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. He also addresses "the challenge of a surprise ending" and how he consciously tried to create some quiet scenes to give audience pulse rates a rest. Of course, there's much discussion about engineering the consistent, drenching downpour, as well as Mangold's aggressive use of the widescreen format, designed to "make the eye work." He credits Cusack with bringing "gravity, humanity, likeability, and humor" to his role, and terms the cast as a whole "a great family." Mangold's pleasant speaking voice makes the track easy on the ears, and the information provided truly enhances one's enjoyment of the film.

At just under 15 minutes, an installment of Starz—On the Set offers the usual promotional drivel, but in a slick, painless fashion. Sprinkled with film clips and interviews, this puffy featurette outlines the plot and allows the actors to reflect on their characters and the creepy goings-on. Mangold notes the importance of securing "real actors" to add depth to the story, and discusses both the beauty and pitfalls of film rain. Liotta recalls being "sopping wet" for two-and-a-half months, and producer Cathy Konrad (Mangold's wife) gleefully relates an on-set practical joke.

Next on the menu are four deleted scenes (running five minutes) with optional commentary from Mangold. None of the cuts harm the film, and three of the four merely provide comic relief, which Mangold felt disrupted the tense, meticulously constructed mood. Three storyboard comparisons (totaling four minutes), the original theatrical trailer, and filmographies for Mangold, Cooney, Cusack, Liotta, and Peet wrap up the disc's special features.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Much more than your garden variety slasher flick, Identity offers a taut, riveting story, multi-dimensional characters, an abundance of atmosphere, colorful direction, and great performances by a cast of seasoned actors. Oh yeah, and it's scary as heck! Columbia's razor sharp transfer and reference quality audio enhance the fright quotient and even make this edge-of-your-seat thriller attractive to the faint of heart. Highly recommended.

 


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