Writer/director Robbie Bryan’s aim in creating an Agatha Christie whodunit is almost successful, but he and co-writer/producer Ken Del Vecchio forgot one major hurdle in creating a thriller based around internet chat rooms: people sitting at computers are not interesting. Neither the visuals, nor Harry Manfredini’s score or editing tricks can make the verbal and typographical interactions between characters seated at desks compelling, although the bulk of iMurders does have actors communicating with each other beyond the realms of their bedrooms and studies – but with few exceptions, those scenes are largely bland.
The writers were ambitious in creating an elaborate revenge tale that begins with a humiliated wife, and flashes forward to a series of chat room gatherings, of which some members are separated by others through a few degrees – as illustrated through a series of secondary plots involving a the benevolent lawyer (Billy Dee Williams) who deceives his clients for financial gain; a disturbed lesbian (Miranda Kwok) who gradually tells her shrink (octogenarian Charles Durning) she’s been harboring a violent revenge plot; an ex-cop (Prison Break’s Frank Grillo) and his FBI sister (Brooke Lewis) trying to catch their brother’s killer; an English professor (William Forsythe) who curries support for academic tenure by sleeping with needy members of the faculty; and the film’s heroine, a corporate events planner (As the World Turns’Terri Colombino) who becomes involved with the ex-cop.
While the story strands do pay off with a clever twist finale, most of the secondary stories are introduced with flat characters spouting overly vague dialogue that feels underwritten rather than cleverly minimalist.
Moreover, there are too many characters, and some of the chat room friends that fall victim to the serial killer’s vengeance are seen only once: as cadavers when the investigating FBI agents (Tony Todd, and co-executive producer Lewis) arrive at crime scenes.
The finale’s impact is also weak because of the film’s midsection. Forsythe is excellent as a wily, self-aggrandizing professor who can’t keep his eyes and hands off female co-workers, but too much time is spent on extra scenes that repeat his philandering habits; the lesbian psych patient seems to exist to justify repeating shots of girl-girl interaction; and Gabrielle Anwar’s earnest turn as a victim in the lawyer’s moneymaking scheme is a severely underwritten part, or the character backstory was shorn during the editing phase. (Her introduction is equally clumsy, because she comes off as an undercover cop instead of a bitter, facially and emotionally scarred ex-model.) The killer’s identity is kept hidden until the very end, but it’s actually not hard to discern which overly friendly, somewhat kooky individual is the vengeful psychopath.
iMurder’s low budget is goosed by a solid cast (Colombino is particularly excellent, giving a natural performance and transcending the contrived romance her character has with the neighboring ex-cop), and there’s some good waterside locations, but the film is hardly the kind of dark material director Bryan describes in the DVD’s promo interviews. There’s a tongue-in-cheek quality to Forsythe’s performance, but one feels that tone was a natural outcome from the actor’s own spin on the character rather than deliberate direction from Bryan.
Maybe the problem with a whodunit is what to do with a large handful of characters. In the Final Destination films, it’s the steady and creative bodycount that’s the star attraction, so characters are less of an issue. That series also consists of groups of characters periodically interacting before and after traumatic incidences, so there’s less need for backstories beyond knowing they’re all cliques of friends; iMurders offers tougher challenges for the writers because most of the characters have never met outside of the chat rooms, and although the script’s three degrees of separation gimmick almost works, the characters just aren’t very interesting.
Anchor Bay’s DVD includes EPK promo interviews with the cast and crew, and the Q&As cover the film’s genesis, casting, indie filmmaking, and the actors’ takes on their characters. There’s also an alternate ending which was wisely dumped because it’s a hasty attempt to introduce a bit of payback after the finale clearly identifies the killer’s identity, and clear motivation.
There’s a good idea buried in iMurders, but it’s a wildly uneven work by newcomer Bryan (The Stand-In).
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan