‘To Catch a Killer’ Investigates Our Haunted Sides – Film Review

“Ignore the clowns; fight the jackals.” 

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New Year’s Eve in Baltimore. Fireworks. Parties. Falling snow – the blood of 29, killed by a shooter. 

To Catch a Killer is a modern thriller written and directed by Damián Szifron, who is making his English-language debut with the film. To Catch A Killer follows Eleanor Falco (Shailene Woodley), a young police officer in Baltimore and one of the first responders to arrive on the scene. The FBI is also brought in due to the number of casualties involved, with chief inspector Lammark (Ben Mendelsohn) spearheading the case. 

The killer is meticulous, leaving little to no traces of evidence in his wake. This leads law enforcement and citizenry alike to develop ideas about who the killer is – a maniac, mentally ill, racist, ex-army, pure evil – but Eleanor has a feeling that something is different. She believes that the perpetrator is searching for a release. 

Due to her unique insight and observation skills, Lammark recruits Eleanor to assist him and Detective Mackenzie (Jovan Adepo) to be his eyes and ears and act as a liaison between him and the local police division. As the city’s mayor is desperate to make an arrest and the clock ticks down, the case continues to prove more complicated. There is no discernable pattern between victims, no excess violence, and no trophies taken. Despite being an unpopular opinion, both Eleanor and Lammark believe the shootings will happen again – and it does. 

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The central crime is committed within the first ten minutes, setting the pace for the ensuing investigation. Even the slower moments do not feel sluggish, as the viewer’s perspective is channelled through Eleanor’s, and her awareness of the ticks and traits of suspects or reading between the lines of a report are incredibly astute – we know that something dreadful may – is going to – happen, because she does. 

The mystery itself is not entirely original, but the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented. However, the form of violence that the killer adopts is incredibly relevant. It exploits current and persisting social fears about sudden death, making the story more provocative. Though the piece has been dubbed as a Silence of the Lambs-esque story, this isn’t exactly true; while similarities are present, To Catch a Killer is not a copycat or descendant. It is its own story. 

One of the most striking aspects is the cinematography. To put it bluntly, it is creepy; between the strange angles, wide shots to capture expansive settings, and inclusion of shade and shadows all establish a haunting atmosphere.

The dynamic between Eleanor and Lammark as mentor/mentee is touching. It is not overly emotional; rather, it’s professional but endearing. Clearly, these characters care for each other and, more importantly, respect one another as colleagues. Lammark sees Eleanor’s potential, and Eleanor supports him in his resistance to playing the game of bureaucracy. Mendelsohn and Woodley bring depth to their roles that make us feel as though they aren’t just merely personifying a narrative trope. Yes, each of them has baggage, but instead of being the main derailment for their careers, it is spun in a way that provides them with unique skills to do the jobs that others can’t do nearly as well.

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With all that said, each person’s degrees of hauntedness are given a safe place to be spotlighted. And Eleanor’s history with self-hatred and harm is, arguably, one of the saddest elements – but sadness can be beautiful too. 

To Catch a Killer is a noir thriller that demonstrates how bloody humanity can be without showing an indulgence in gore. Such a decision leaves viewers to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations, and that is where the horror truly stems. 

It definitely seems as though there has been a draught of solid mystery/thriller projects as of late, so Szifron’s piece is welcome indeed. Watch this film; you’ll most likely feel uncomfortable, maybe even squirm, but you may enjoy it too.

To Catch A Killer opened in theatres on April 21

by Kacy Hogg

Kacy is an English graduate student living in the Great White North (not Winterfell, unfortunately), that is Canada. Her favourite films include the Harry Potter series, The Mummy (1999), and Cinderella (2015). Some of her obsessions include Japanese horror, books over 600 pages, and the day Saoirse Ronan finally wins her Oscar. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95

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