Poor Janet (Katharine Isabelle). She’s just finished seeing a bad movie with a friend, but before she gets the chance to wash the cinematic stank from her eyes she’s attacked and abducted by a beer-bellied psychopath in a mask. She’s killed and disposed of but not before a photo of her lifeless body is taken for posterity. Well, posterity and for the purpose of taunting a local checkout girl named Colleen (Claudia Lee). It’s not the first picture she finds, and it won’t be the last, but without proof of an actual crime the sheriff (Mitch Pileggi) tell her there’s nothing they can do. He surmises it’s little more than a prank, and we’d probably wonder if his theory was correct if it weren’t for the fact that we’d already been shown the two killers in action.
But The Girl in the Photographs is a not a film interested in suspense, mystery, or tension.
On the other side of the country a successful photographer from the American Apparel-school of sleazy marketing catches wind of the photos in his hometown of Spearfish and is immediately inspired and challenged. Peter Hemmings (Kal Penn) decides to pack up his assistant and a trio of models and head back to recreate the pictures for his next campaign — only fair as the bodies seem to be posed similarly to some of his catalog shoots. He soon connects with Colleen tries to convince her that the “dirty pictures” he wants to take of her are a better option than the ones this psychopathic admirer might have planned. He uses women for their appearance, the killers abuse them for the same reason, and that would have been an interesting correlation to explore.
But The Girl in the Photographs is not a film interested in commenting on objectification, obsession, or the media.
So what is director/co-writer Nick Simon‘s (Removal) second feature? An attractively-shot misfire incapable of committing to its various narrative threads, uninterested in its characters, and intent on aping more than a few other, better films.
There’s no denying that Simon’s movie looks good, and without diminishing his own efforts I’d be remiss in not pointing out the obvious contributions of cinematographer Dean Cundey. The long-time John Carpenter favorite casts an appealing eye across the film in moments both mundane and nightmarish. The dark looks as good as the light. There are moments of real creepiness early on with our first glimpses of the killers, and as the violence amps up in the third act we’re treated (?) to some gory, brutal beats. The cast is also quite good throughout, and while their characters perhaps don’t deserve these performances they add to the film’s professional feel.
As appealing as so much of the film is to the eye though there’s nothing here to satisfy our minds. The script — from Simon, Robert Morast, and Osgood Perkins (February) — sets up this odd love quadrangle of sorts as Colleen draws the attention of her ex-boyfriend, the photographer, his assistant, and one of the killer but then does nothing with it. All of them are reacting almost exclusively to her looks as the character is nothing more than a bored twenty-something with no visibly appealing personality traits, but there’s no end game here.
The thrills are equally sparse as too many moments are telegraphed in advance. The ones that approach the neighborhood of effectiveness are cribbed from higher profile affairs including The Silence of the Lambs, The Strangers, Kiss the Girls, and others. Slasher films in general depend on a certain degree of ineptitude in its victim/character pool, but we’re wading in the shallow end here as Colleen — the only person who suspects the murders are real — continually leaves her doors (apartment, car, etc) unlocked. The police are content viewing this as a prank even though there are at least eight young women now missing from this small area of Wisconsin. And don’t get me started on the big, expensive house that inexplicably has a hot tub in the front yard.
The Girl in the Photographs is watchable, but its promise far outweighs its execution. Just make sure it’s not the last movie you see before meeting your own demise.
The Upside: Slick cinematography; some early creepiness; some late brutality
The Downside: Never scary or unsettling; empty characters; meh ending