<>An-a-mor-pho-sis n. pl. An image distorted so that it can only be viewed without distortion from a certain angle or using specific instrumentation.
In the case of this direct to video thriller, our serial killer is using the aforementioned technique in his murders. He dismembers bodies and reassembles them so that they appear differently depending on how you view them. Obviously the killer considers himself a kind or artist. He justifies killing by remarking that the sacrifice of a single human life to bring such a work of art to humanity is a reasonable trade-off In this case, however, our killer is targeting an audience of one.
Stan (Defoe) is a criminalist and a professor of criminology. He’s a bit of an obsessive compulsive. He also has quite a dark nature of his own. Perhaps this is why he is so able to understand the minds of killers. After five years he has been unable to personally cope with a previous case. He killed the prime suspect in a string of bizarre and brutal murders. It earned him a promotion, but he has tried to keep a low profile since that time. He’s haunted by the possibility he killed the wrong man, a feeling that is further supported by a sudden emergence of a killer who follows the same patterns. The killer uses the bodies to leave behind works he considers high art. Stan soon discovers that he’s on the same wavelength as his subject. He alone interprets the clues left behind. It is becoming evident that the killer is leaving these displays for his benefit. Through flashbacks filmed in blurred monochromatic hues, we are shown the past events that appear to play into the current case.
Anamorph is a highly contemplative film. There are long sections where you’ll find little or no dialog. The last 20 minutes contain no dialog at all, taking us through the film’s climax in cinematic silence, bolstered by only a score to let us know we haven’t lost the sound on our equipment. The images are also somewhat startling without really being gory or bloody. They remind me of a science exhibit that came through
Unfortunately, outside of tremendous atmosphere, the film has little else going for it. The pace is almost painstakingly slow. The movie appears to consider itself a work of art rather than a traditional film. That makes for some unusual images, but it also causes the casual viewer to lose patience. The rest of the cast might not as well be there at all. They don’t seem to matter to Stan, and so soon they cease to matter to us. Don Harvey plays the only other significant role, that of the killer. He’s never given a chance to truly shine, as his character spends most of the time hidden in shadows or deliberate camera angles. In the end its real strength lies in the character study provided by Defoe. I don’t expect that to be enough for most viewers.
Anamorph is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is a very dark, but very stark film. Credit some wonderfully deep black levels and some rather razor sharp contrast. There isn’t much in the way of color at all in the film. Everything is dark and subdued. When the occasional red or blue does find its way on screen it is usually a pretty jarring experience. Fortunately it’s a solid bit rate so that the dark images don’t appear to suffer from serious compression artifact. Trust me when I tell you that a bad compression rate here could completely ruin any chance this film has of being watchable. When there are well lit moments the light tends to be overexposed and images look washed. I suspect it was intentional to make light the unnatural condition in Miller’s creepy world.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a bit of a waste here. Almost nothing happens outside of the front and center dialog speakers. Music is always subtle so that much of the film is nearly silent. Unfortunately sound is not really a vital element to this film. It’s all about the visuals.
The Making Of Anamorph: Cast and crew give us a brief synopsis and then spend the short time of this feature telling us how clever they are. There is almost no real making of footage to be found here.
Deleted Scene: There is just one two minute scene that is mostly more contemplation as Stan studies a painting. In the final 30 seconds the tedium is interrupted by one of his students.
Anamorph is certainly not for everyone. You have to open yourself to a different kind of movie storytelling here. The movie will try your patience to the extreme. This film wants more than anything to find itself hung on the walls of a prestigious art house somewhere. It will settle for that LCD panel you have hanging in the living room wall. It wants to inspire debate. It practically begs to be discussed. That’s pretty ambitious for a direct to video rental for a rainy day. It’s a film about murder and brutality that in the end provides “more water than blood”.