15 March 2010 | Lechuguilla
Premise Based On A Real-Life Case
This crime thriller centers on a detective named Megan (Eliza Dushku) who investigates a series of child murders in upstate New York. But Megan suffers from a mental illness, the symptoms of which get worse as she delves deeper into the killings. She hears strange voices and sees "visions" related to the victims.
With low light levels and muted colors, combined with creepy background music, the film's first half creates an effective thriller atmosphere. We see the outline of the killer, but never the face. Will Megan solve the murders and overcome her illness, or will the inept police supersede, to botch the case? As viewers, we root for Megan to succeed.
Although the script idea originates from a real-life murder case, referred to generally as the "double initial" serial killings, which terrorized upstate New York in the early 1970s, the film's overall plot and main characters are fictional. The story setting is the present, not the 1970s. The scriptwriter created the Megan character out of thin air. And the story's outcome deviates considerably from the outcome of the real-life case. The film's writer wrote a fictional plot, based on a real-life premise. The film's second half fails to convince, largely because of its clichéd plot contrivances.
Visuals consist of an annoying widescreen projection and some hokey CGI effects, in the form of "ghosts". But the low lighting contributes tension, as does some clever low-angle camera shots. And the director relies mostly on a hand-held camera, which enhances realism. Overall casting and acting are fine.
"The Alphabet Killer" gets off to a great start. But it falters in the second half, owing to fictional plot points that dilute the underlying real-life premise. I would have preferred a narrative that followed the true story, though I understand that the reason for not doing so was budget constraints. By lowering one's expectations, the viewer may find the film worthwhile, either as a fictional thriller or as a character study of a woman fighting her own demons.