Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Willed to Kill (Incendo/Lifetime, 2012)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

This morning I watched a quite good thriller I’d recorded from Lifetime over the weekend: Willed to Kill, a 2012 production from Incendo Media that featured Sarah Jane Morris (hot!) as Boston homicide detective Karyn Mitchell (the pretentious spelling of the first name — what’s wrong with “Karen”? — bothers me a little), who’s already blown away two previous serial killers when, in one of the most chilling opening sequences ever put on film, she enters a house where a knife-wielding psycho has tied up and gagged a real woman, set her at a dining table with a bunch of mannequins, and is preparing to torture and kill her. When Karyn crashes the scene, the baddie starts teasing her, asking who she would want to play her in the movie they’re going to make of his life (for his own account, he’s so closely channeling The Silence of the Lambs his choice to play himself would obviously be Anthony Hopkins!), then goes after her with his knife and she shoots him in self-defense. For this, she’s christened “Dirty Harriet” by her colleagues on the Boston PD (of course, this being a Lifetime movie, Montreal is “playing” Boston), and the fruits of her labors are an internal-affairs investigation, a dressing-down by her chief, Lt. Schneider (David McIlwraith), a sour attitude from her partner and former fiancé, Gavin McNaab (Ross McCall), and mandatory therapy sessions with Dr. Aaron Kade (Michael Riley). Then a couple of murders occur in which the victims are scarred post-mortem with the Greek letter that symbolizes Hades, trademark of the so-called “Hades Killer” who operated 15 years earlier.

Karyn is convinced the new killings are the work of a copycat, and she has to deal with a succession of weirdos falsely confessing to the crimes as well as the watchful eyes of her fellow cops, who want her to catch Hades, all right, but to catch him alive this time and allow the judicial system to take its course instead of summarily executing him. Director Philippe Gagnon and writer James Taylor Phillips give us a surprisingly broad suspect pool namely by making just about every male in Karyn’s vicinity so unbearably twitchy we’re sure one of them must be the killer. Among the suspects she encounters are Arthur Brady (Kent McQuaid) — whose recently deceased uncle was one of the suspects in the original Hades murders — along with another wanna-be who actually kills someone in his efforts to convince the cops he is Hades, but whose crime has just the opposite effect when Karyn points out that he was considerably sloppier than the real Hades (or at least the new one — you know a thriller plot is convoluted when one of the crimes is committed by a copycat of the copycat!). Willed to Kill’s plot takes an interesting turn when Gavin invites Karyn to his upcoming wedding — “You’re not supposed to marry the rebound!” she insists, though he says he got her pregnant and therefore had to — and Karyn has a meet-cute outside a gym with Mark Hanson (Dylan Bruce, a considerably hunkier good guy than we usually get in a Lifetime movie) and they fuck on the first date and “get serious” thereafter — at least until Karyn decides, on the basis of his inside information and his similar background to the killer (notably the fact that they both lost their wives — Karyn knows this because the killer has been in regular phone contact with her, slipping her bits of background and always hanging up just in time to make sure the police can’t complete the trace on his calls), that he’s Hades and arrests him.

The film cycles through various false suspects and red herrings — including the one I thought was going to be the guilty party, a twitchy reporter who was following her and stalking her to get stories about the case, until he was killed in the next-to-last act — and finally reveals that Hades was [spoiler alert!] Karyn’s therapist, Dr. Kade, and that Karyn’s father was the original Hades. Karyn’s father was never charged with those crimes but was bad enough he was caught and executed anyway, and Karyn actually turned him in when she was 16 — but she agonized about doing that for six months, during which Hades I murdered Dr. Kade’s parents, and rather than just kill her Dr. Kade decided to become Hades II, picking his victims from the ranks of career criminals so he wouldn’t knock off someone who could be considered an “innocent victim,” and comparing himself to Karyn as someone who also killed criminals instead of trusting the legal process. The story is far-fetched and stretches the bounds of legitimate suspension of disbelief, but within that it at least makes sense, the resolution is (more or less) logical and the overall effect is quite chilling and offers everything you want from a suspense film. Director Gagnon stages the action expertly, up to and including the final confrontation (Dr. Kade is planning to take Karyn to the roof of the police building, push her off and then report to his superiors that in their last session she threatened suicide, so they’ll believe him when he says she killed herself), which Karyn extricates herself from in a believable manner while it’s Dr. Kade who falls off the building and dies. (That was a pity; I was hoping the final frames would be her turning him over to Lt. Schneider and saying, “See? I can take someone alive!”)