Dominance and submission

Ashley Judd returns to battle evil-doers and bore theater goers.

by Tom Horgen

Here we go again.

Ashley Judd returns like a bad headache to pester us with another movie about someone killing someone. And yes, she’s hell-bent on figuring out why.

Story-wise, Judd’s thrillers might not have any actual relation, but you’d swear you were watching the same movie. And “Twisted” follows its predecessors – “Kiss the Girls,” “Double Jeopardy” and “High Crimes” – almost systematically down the road of mediocrity.

This time was supposed to be different though. “Twisted” is directed by Philip Kaufman, who’s made his share of daring, sometimes great films (“Quills,” “Henry and June” and the near masterpiece, “The Right Stuff”). And hey, Samuel L. Jackson is in this one. But instead of a surprising piece of fluff, we get a movie shackling itself almost masochistically with the conventions of the genre. Beyond that, “Twisted” seems to be indulging itself, however strangely, in a bit of female objectification.

Judd plays Jessica, an edgy beat cop who’s just been promoted to detective. Unfortunately, her first case turns out to be a serial killing where the murderer is beating to death all her recent one-night stands. To complicate matters, on the night of each murder, Jessica suffers blackouts that appear to be related to her drinking problem.

As the movie progresses, dopey clues indicate that anyone could be the killer – her jealous ex-boyfriend, her partner (Andy Garcia), her surrogate father (Jackson) and yes, even Jessica herself. The false clues are so Scooby-Dooish that most filmgoers should be able to guess who the killer is after the first body washes up.

The lone morsel of interest in “Twisted” is the way Kaufman constructs the film’s objectification of Jessica. He seems determined to not only objectify her, but to also incriminate us in the objectification process.

The film’s story seems to almost be blaming Jessica for all the people dying around her. She is dangerously promiscuous and an alcoholic. And on top of that, she has a streak of violent behavior. She’s constructed as a man-killer. A femme fatale.

To bring us into the oppressive process, Kaufman shoots Judd in what could almost be called sadistic compositions. The film opens with an extreme close up of Judd’s sweaty cheek, and a man whispering into her ear as he holds a knife to her throat. The intimacy of the shot and the length of the scene undeniably put us right there, breathing down Judd’s neck. The next scene – after she beats the hell out of that guy – opens in a bar with a tight shot of Judd’s butt. The camera holds and then quickly zooms out, revealing the rest of the bar. And so on and so forth for the rest of the film.

Some people might infer that by implicating the audience in this objectification of Judd, the film is giving us a visceral sense of the serial killer’s sexual obsession. But when the movie itself is so dull, this toying with female objectification fails to serve any higher purpose.