To Catch a Killer, 2023.
Directed by Damián Szifron.
Starring Shailene Woodley, Ben Mendelsohn, Jovan Adepo, Ralph Ineson, Rosemary Dunsmore, Jason Cavalier, Mark Camacho, Darcy Laurie, Karine Dion, Arthur Holden, Richard Zeman, Adam LeBlanc, Sean Tucker, Erniel Baez Duenas, Dusan Dukic, Bobby Brown, Mark Antony Krupa, Michael Cram, Frank Schorpion, Dawn Lambing, and Lilou Roy-Lanouette.
Baltimore. New Year’s Eve. A talented but troubled police officer (Shailene Woodley) is recruited by the FBI’s chief investigator (Ben Mendelsohn) to help profile and track down a disturbed individual terrorizing the city.
There is too much procedure in To Catch a Killer, a procedural thriller involving a serial mass murderer and a tortured soul Boston beat cop maneuvering her way into working with the FBI on the case because they need someone with a similarly disturbed mind to identify someone who has no clear patterns or motives for killing. Co-writer and director Damián Szifron (working alongside Jonathan Wakeham) are certainly interested in that juxtaposition but explores it in such a muddled fashion that all there really is to say is that aspiring agent Eleanor Falco (Shailene Woodley) has a history of self-harm and the killer is basically a misanthrope for several reasons that never necessarily click as compelling or thought-provoking.
FBI agent Geoffrey Lammark (Ben Mendelsohn) is brought in to oversee the manhunt but also has other high-ranking authority figures breathing down his neck to either show results or give the public droplets of information and stunts that don’t provide much use to anyone or chase down targets that don’t fit the modus operandi once he and Eleanor do nail down an idea of who they are looking for. This means that To Catch a Killer is also about the flaws and boneheaded, backfiring decisions made during a procedural investigation, which often hinders one’s engagement with the mystery at hand.
It’s unfortunate, considering Damián Szifron has a knack for crafting and staging terrifyingly inspired sequences that appropriately capture the horror of mass shooting incidents without going fully overboard into tasteless, exploitative shock value. To Catch a Killer opens on New Year’s Eve at a loud party with fireworks blowing off nonstop. There also happens to be a sniper holed up in an empty room in the apartment across the street, using the fireworks as cover to pick off individuals partying on balconies, in hot tubs, or casually hanging around. It’s also shot without directly placing the targets in the center of the frame, allowing viewers to get a sense of the party’s scale with a queasy fear of which one will be shot next.
Visually, that’s about as riveting as this experience gets. From there, the film goes into a revolving door state of moderately intriguing when watching these characters discuss the rights and wrongs to identify a killer while also deducing what the killer is or isn’t after, to overlong boredom with too many detours and subplots (there’s an entire segment dedicated to Lammark’s home life and marriage that doesn’t add anything). Sonically, the filmmakers have attracted the reliable Carter Burwell to do the score, which is easily the strongest aspect aside from the unsettling opening sequence.
Once these characters come face-to-face with the killer and have a definitive explanation of why and what led to these heinous crimes, it never elevates into the deep psychological territory the filmmakers aim for. If anything, To Catch a Killer becomes more phony and pointless the longer it goes on. There’s a kernel of a solid idea here, hyper-focusing on putting together a modus operandi, but weak themes, excessive side stories, and underexplored characters surround it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com