(Philip Kaufman, USA, 2004)


Filmgoers have, since the late ‘90s, suffered several depressing years of awful, by-the-numbers horror movies that do little beyond providing lame variations on basic fears – fear of the dark, of heights, of the unknown.


Now it is the thriller genre’s turn to bore us with its mindless rote procedures.


Twisted should have been a decent thriller. Director Philip Kaufman, before he got stuck in a highbrow rut with pompous projects like Quills (2000), often demonstrated his ability to transform familiar Hollywood material. But we are now a long way from the intricate, sardonic perspective that Kaufman was able to bring to fare like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).


At the outset, the ingredients of Twisted are intriguing. Like Sandra Bullock in Murder by Numbers (2002), Jessica (Ashley Judd) is a cop with an aggression problem – and, apart from chatting to a helpful shrink, she works this problem off via rough, casual sex encounters. She also develops a drinking habit that leads to blackouts. After each of these episodes, one of her hunky flings shows up dead.


But ultimately, as in the contemporaneous, woeful thriller Taking Lives (2004), the only game being played here is guess-the-serial-killer. And so the suspects dutifully file before us, such as her fiercely loyal but edgy partner, Mike (Andy Garcia), her resentful ex-boyfriend, Jimmy (Mark Pellegrino), or her substitute daddy-figure John (Samuel L. Jackson).


Secretly, I was hoping throughout for the shrink, “Dr Melvin Frank” (David Strathairn), to turn out to be the bad guy.


Once the dull mechanics of the plot take over, the only thing Kaufman can take advantage of is the misty, menacing San Francisco Bay location. But when fine auteurs like Kaufman, Bob Rafelson or Monte Hellman are reduced to providing mere atmospheric touches, American cinema is indeed in a bad way.

MORE Kaufman: The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Hemingway & Gellhorn, The Right Stuff, Rising Sun

© Adrian Martin May 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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