Willem Dafoe stars as a homicide detective haunted by a serial killer case that was supposedly solved when a man was shot and killed (unarmed and sitting in chair) in his home. Dafoe’s character carries around the guilt of one of the victims and has gone into teaching instead of continuing as an investigator. Five years later, a possible copycat, or perhaps the original killer (he called himself Uncle Teddy) is back on a killing spree. What makes this maniac unique is his method of murder: His victim’s bodies are used to construct elaborate, gruesome works of art. The killer/artist creates works in the concept of anamorphosis, a painting technique that manipulates the laws of perspective to create two competing images on a single canvas.
Sounds clever, huh? Unfortunately, that one idea gets lost amongst the attempts by Writer/director H.S. Miller and his co-writer Tom Phelan to create strong characters and a convincing plot. Shame, because so much of Anamorph is excellent, starting with the cast. Dafoe is outstanding. He has become the go-to guy for wounded characters trying to fit back into society. Equally good is Scott Speedman, who continues to impress me as an actor with each subsequent role he plays. Clea Duvall is strong in a minor but important role of a friend of the victim Dafoe feels responsible for. They meet regularly while her character is donating blood. Unfortunately her character takes a sudden turn at the film’s end that nearly negates all of the positive work Duvall does earlier in the movie. Finally, Peter Stormare steals every scene he’s in as an eccentric art dealer who may be Dafoe’s only friend in the film. Stormare brings so much charisma to his supporting role you almost wish you could watch an entire film devoted to his character. In addition to the fine acting, the film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Fred Murphy and smoothly edited by Geraud Brisson.
Despite the talent thrown on the screen, Miller and Phelan’s script never connects the dots the way we expect a thriller to do. More time was spent trying to make Anamorph a character study, except that the characters are never fully realized. Thus, we’re left with half a thriller and half a character piece, but never a complete movie. As much as I appreciate the attempt to make all of these characters interesting, I wish the film would have played out as a more conventional thriller. Because of the lack of focus, the payoff of the killer’s identity feels pretty random. Although the marketers compared Anamorph to the Saw series, I felt that Anamorph was closer to Se7en, the Brad Pitt/Morgan Freeman film from 1995. If only this film would have been able to find the proper balance like that one, Anamorph could have been deemed a success.