DVD REVIEW: DARK TOURIST / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: SURI KRISHNAMMA / SCREENPLAY: FRANK JOHN HUGHES / STARRING: MELANIE GRIFFITH, MICHAEL CUDLITZ, PRUITT TAYLOR VINCE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Surely anyone who spends all their downtime studying the abhorrent acts of deranged killers warrants a little wary suspicion? Maybe. If that person then isolates themselves from society, perhaps being surrounded by all that material unchecked will have an inevitable adverse effect. Or is it ultimately not their fault at all?
What could have been an interesting study of why serial killers exist, and the age-old analysis of nature versus nurture, Dark Tourist disappointingly becomes a routinely plodding and overwrought melodrama. The long-awaited build toward an expected explosion of exploitative violence does partially rescue the film, but it also emphasises what perhaps is a missed opportunity.
Originally titled The Grief Tourist the story follows Jim (the perpetually brooding Cudlitz), a loner by his own design who spends precious holiday time visiting locations made infamous by serial killers and mass murderers. Employed as a security guard on the graveyard shift he spends his nights patiently planning; his solitary life allowing an obsessive nature to develop without interruption or intervention. Unexpected events on this year’s trip, however, threaten to awaken demons Jim has apparently managed to so far keep under control.
An opening act of haunting intrigue, with a grimy, uneasy atmosphere strongly evoked by Cudlitz’s noirish voiceover, benefits from intentional slow pacing. This pacing however develops into a desperately wearisome middle third that threatens to ruin all the initial strong work, with palpable discomfort giving way to morose meanderings. A passing relationship with Melanie Griffith’s small town waitress Betsy feels like a blunt tool used to draw attention to Jim’s tension-filled true nature, with the threat of malevolent aggression only just restrained behind a sympathy-demanding outward visage. The blurred lines between his perception of reality and fantasy become lost in a story that seems to just drift along.
When events do intensify towards the end everything suddenly feels very awkwardly rushed, as if the filmmakers felt pressured to reach their denouement, tying up loose ends and delivering a clumsy twist with a bloody flourish, then bowing expectantly.
The frustration with Dark Tourist comes from the realisation there is a damn good story in there somewhere, but one that needed more focus on the strengths rather than risking resulting weaknesses. The performances are strong, with Cudlitz holding the film together in a role that draws the viewer towards a suspicion of sociopathic tendencies, while resisting references too obvious until the end. The direction is striking; bleak and almost sepia in style that reflects cleverly on the macabre locations. There are many good things in Dark Tourist; it’s just a pity that the plot loses its way rendering the conclusion more a relief than a dramatic finale.