The first English language feature from Argentine writer-director Damian Szifron, who made the excellent Relatos Salvages, is a run-of-the-mill cops-and-feds-on-the-trail-of-a-serial-slayer murkodrama – its bones are pretty much those of a not-too-special episode of Criminal Minds and the shadow of Thomas Harris hangs heavily over the whole thing. It’s set in Baltimore (where Hannibal Lecter worked, remember) but shot in Montreal and opens on New Year’s Eve with a sniper potting dozens of partying victims in rooftop pools, glass elevators, the streets, etc. Line of fire leads to a supposedly untenanted apartment, which blows up when the investigators get there – veteran FBI profiler Lammarck (Ben Mendelsohn), gay and perhaps HIV+ but otherwise fitting the standard genius mentor type, spots that beat cop Eleanor (Shailene Woodley) has made some smart calls on the site and decides she should be on the team as a Clarice subsitute – though it turns out her FBI application was rejected because of a poor psych evaluation and a history of self-harm and drug abuse (judging by the paraphenalia in her apartment she’s one of those ex-junkies who keep bent spoons and used needles about for nostalgia purposes).
The killer (Ralph Ineson, showing up only in the last act like Ke7in Spacey) strikes again, and the cops, feds, politicos and other involves parties squabble, impose poor policies and generally get in the way of the hero team … who, as in too many of these things, find themselves on their own with backup far away in the isolated rural lair of mr maniac, with the senior partner gunned and the not-exactly-up-to-it heroine having to have a long conversation with an embittered, isolated saddo – he had a head injury as a kid, which might explain his murderousness – who is still somehow a genius at bomb-making and forensic countermeasures. It’s full of people who are good value even with rote material – Jovan Adepo of Babylon is an extra fed – and in the way that you (well, I) can turn on Criminal Minds and generally get on with it, it’s watchable. It’s not as ludicrous as, for instance, The Postcard Killings or even that Netflix Luther spin-off, which isn’t entirely a good thing. I probably won’t remember it under either of its titles by this time next month. Not to be confused with the Moliere play or that 1992 Brian Dennehy TV movie about John Wayne Gacy.