On the surface, “Identity” appears to be an updated retelling of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, only this time the setting is a roadside inn in the style of the Bates Motel rather than a secluded island. However, as the story unravels, it becomes much more than that.
During a rain deluge, a series of seemingly unrelated events land a dozen people at a motel in the desert somewhere between L.A. and Las Vegas. They all appear to come from different walks of life – a prostitute, an ex-cop limo driver, a has-been diva actress, a federal agent and a convicted killer, just to name a few. However, they are all connected in a mysterious way.
One of the people – a wife and mother – has been hit by a car and is bleeding to death when they show up. The folks in the motel can’t call out to get an ambulance because the phones are down, and the storm is interfering with cell phones. Ed the limo driver (John Cusack), who is the one who hit the woman with his car, helps patch her up. With the roads flooding in either direction, the strangers can do nothing more than wait out the storm.
But then, people start dying.
And when they die, they are marked with a room key, starting with 10 and counting down. As the other patrons in the motel try to solve the mystery, their numbers continue to grow fewer by the minute. All of these events seem to be revisiting a terrible murderous rampage that haunted a motel decades ago, leaving everyone dead but one – the killer who happens to be heading to the electric chair this evening.
And that’s about all I can say about the plot without spoiling the movie for you.
A lot of what makes “Identity” work is the film’s heavy atmosphere. For those of us that remember Brad Anderson’s thriller Session 9 (which is historically notable, at least, because it is one of the first films shot on the 24-p camera), the eerie look and feel is similar in “Identity.” It also doesn’t hurt to have John Cusack’s name behind it.
Cusack, who started out in the 1980s as a teen heartthrob in such classic films as Better Off Dead and The Sure Thing, has become a cinematic icon for going against the Hollywood grain. His more recent films like “High Fidelity” and Being John Malkovich have won him respect from both fans and critics. So, with his inclusion in the cast, you shouldn’t expect the run-of-the-mill thriller.
“Identity” is not exactly a scary movie as much as it is an intriguing movie. It will keep you guessing, but you can probably figure it out if you think hard enough. Don’t go for the scares, though. There are some moments that can seriously make you jump, but other times it tries too hard to be scary, forcing itself on the audience.
There is one hell of a twist in this film, and it’s tempting to say that this twist is a cliché. But it actually is an amalgamation of several clichés, and it spins these clichés on a totally different axis than you’d expect. The only problem with this twist is that it drags on a little bit after it is revealed.
Ultimately, when the story’s boiled down, it really is nothing more than a serial killer mystery. But “Identity” approaches the serial killer archetype in a tremendously unique way. It turns the old stand-bys on their ears and gives a fresh perspective on the genre.
In fact, the story is such an excellent mix of Hollywood-driven clichés and creative ways around them that you might think it was written by Oscar-nominated Donald Kaufman, whose untimely death has stymied the production of his only solo screenplay, “The 3.”