Though I'm wholly dedicated to Dollhouse and Wrong Turn is one of my favourite films, I'm not the world's biggest Eliza Dushku fan. But I like her well enough, so I sat down to watch her in a film I'd never heard of. Interestingly, surprisingly, other biggish names are in this, too: Carey Elwes, Timothy Hutton, and Michael Ironside, to name a few.
Eliza Dushku is Megan Paige, a dectective with the Rochester police and engaged to her colleague Carey Elwes. Megan obssesses over her cases, but her strange behaviour gets results. But when Megan can't solve the rape and murder of a young girl after months of work, she goes mad and tries to kill herself. Two years later, Carey Elwes is captain, Megan is single, working as a file clerk in the police department, and attending group therapy. When another girl turns up dead, Megan insists being put on the case, risking her own sanity. She works diligently, but when a third girl is killed, her tenuous grip on reality starts to slip. Megan eventually comes face-to-face with the killer, but her losing battle with mental illness has taken its toll.
The film is loosely based on a series of murders that took place in Rochester, NY, in the early 70s. Understated and low key, The Alphabet Killer looks and feels a little like Silence of the Lambs. The setting, working class Rochester in winter, creates a bleak atmosphere of near-hopelessness. And Megan's unrelenting pursuit of the truth, at the expense of her own well-being, is both inspiring and upsetting. Megan becomes privy to information that eventually leads her to the killer, but her mental instability prevents her from properly handling the situation. This dual conflict, of Megan versus killer and Megan verses self, underscore's the film's already despairing tone.
The Alphabet Killer, however, is not a downer. At least, not totally. Its ending lacks closure, but the truth of the story is the real killer was never found. And this unsolved aspect allows the filmmakers to take a lot of liberties, including one rediculous and not-unpredicatble twist. Questionable twist aside, the rest of the film is well done. As I said, I don't always buy into Eliza Dushku, but she pulls off crazy and it doesn't hurt that she's surrounded by people who are all very good at thier jobs. Timothy Hutton, in particular, is great as Megan's friend who helps her through her recovery.
Released in exactly two theatres, the film has since passed into relative obscurity, which is a bit of a shame. In spite of its somewhat disappointing end, the story holds together. The film even manages to be surprisingly creepy at times, which helps the viewer better understand Megan's psychosis--the woman is haunted. Not a straight-out horror movie, The Alphaber Killer is more mystery than anything, but it's also dark. Like Dushku's character the movie is good at what it does, if a little flawed.