No matter how many ways you shuffle around its lurid components, the new movie "Anamorph" never adds up to "Se7en," the David Fincher blood feast that this film tries so hard to be.
Where to begin? Willem Dafoe is Stan, a New York City police detective still paralyzed with guilt over his role in the murder investigation, four years earlier, of a serial killer called Uncle Eddie. Eddie was eventually caught and shot dead, and Stan became a municipal hero. Whether it was actually Eddie who was killed, however, is currently in question, since a series of very Eddie-like slayings is now once again underway. Deep in his barely beating heart, the listless Stan knows he shot the wrong man in that earlier case; and of course the killer knows it, too. What next?
Not much, really. Having a po-faced mope for a central character is a wildly ill-advised idea. Stan hardly speaks to anyone (sometimes you wonder if he's actually breathing), and his unvarying lassitude sucks the life, such as it is, out of the picture. He lives in a grim downtown apartment, the centerpiece of which is a gaudy, throne-like chair. This chair plays a central role in the story, apparently symbolic, but I never quite figured out why. In fact, Stan has something of a chair fixation, which drives him to barroom consultations with an antiques dealer named Blair (Peter Stormare, less over-the-top than usual, alas). Stan and Blair chew over the new series of murders, all of which involve intricately-staged death tableaux, each of them suggesting that the killer has both Wikipedia access and possibly a first-year art-school education. His death scenes reference the well-known connection between Velázquez and Francis Bacon, among various other things, and Stan himself throws in an allusion to the photographer Cartier-Bresson, whom Stan admires for having "spent his life chasing the decisive moment." Whatever. Some rather arcane gadgetry is paraded through the proceedings, too — a camera obscura, a great big pantograph — to little real effect.
Given the movie's desperate aspirations to the macabre, all of this is surprisingly dull. Having directed Dafoe to tamp down his trademark intensity, first-time feature director Henry Miller can't infuse the film with any energy — even with cinematographer Fred Murphy doing a creditable job of replicating the clammy horror of Darius Khondji's work in "Se7en." Miller had the good fortune to be able to cast some engaging actors in the film, especially Scott Speedman as Stan's increasingly suspicious partner, and Clea DuVall as a young woman whose significance in the story unfortunately remains unclear for far too long. As for the killer, though, he's a little-seen cipher in the beginning, which is appropriate; but he's still a cipher at the end, which isn't. (Miller's good fortune didn't extend to casting someone of Kevin Spacey's freakazoid esprit in the role.)
Fincher's mini-classic was a work of grimy wonder: It reveled in its gruesome trappings, and it was funny, too. On a scale of one to, well, seven, Miller's doomed rip barely rates.
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