Calculated horror


Murder by Numbers

Directed by Barbet Schroeder

(Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin)



Murder by Numbers makes me want to act silly. Here is a film that dug deep into the pockets of every cookie-cutter murder-mystery of years past, and uses every cliché it could find with a straight face. Since Barbet Schroeder is calling the shots, I wondered if he was attempting some sort of genre critique. But no, this is just a really bad movie.

Schroeder’s last film, Our Lady of the Assassins, was alive, with a complexity that not only extended to its characters and narrative, but to its production. Shot on location in Medellin, Colombia, he used guerrilla-style film-making to navigate the city, one known as an outpost for the world drug trade.

In comparison, Murder by Numbers attempts complexity, but is rigid to the core. Miss Congeniality herself, Sandra Bullock, is a detective who suspects two high-school students of committing a precision murder. Unfortunately, Tony Gayton’s script seems to be masturbating to its own presupposed cleverness. The film relies on flashback to the point that the narrative can’t sustain itself without cheaply resorting to this tired convention. Portions of the film become explanations of explanations, almost to the point where my fingers went blue from the movie incessantly holding my hand.

While Our Lady of the Assassins was shot hand-held, with jagged camera movements-giving the film its unsettling appeal, Murder by Numbers can’t get past simple staging shots. There’s a strict regiment to the camerawork so we can read what’s on the case-file, what’s on the street sign, and so on.

The characters inhabiting Murder by Numbers, specifically the adults, are stiff and conventional. Take Bullocks’ Cassie Mayweather; she has a problem. She gets intimate with men and then pushes them away. We find out why during a flashback. Do you think by solving this case she will rid the inner-demons that cause her victimizing sociability? Oh boy, let’s wait and find out. – Tom Horgan

Murder by Numbers opens this Friday.