Synopsis: An agoraphobic psychologist and a female detective must work together to take down a serial killer who copies serial killers from the past.
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Holly Hunter, Dermot Mulroney, Harry Connick Jr., Will Patton
Director: Jon Amiel
Running Length: 123 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: The root of every good thriller comes down to its casting. True, you can cast a movie with A-List stars and still get F-List product (see Oceans 12) but if a director casts their movie well that’s sometimes half the battle. Director Amiel (Sommersby) nabbed two of the most interesting actresses for this thriller and in doing so he elevated what probably was a second-rate script into a meaty and twisty tale that still spooks and entertains nearly 20 years later.
For my money, Weaver is one of the most underappreciated appreciated actresses in the business. Yes, that’s a contradiction but for all the good notices she’s gets she’s never cracked that awards junket part of Hollywood and that’s a crime. Here she’s a psychologist suffering from agoraphobia after a terrifying encounter with a serial killer she helped put away (Connick Jr cast SO against type). Confined to her house, she plays video games and participates in chat rooms that are so dated looking (this was 1995 after all) that it seems she is communicating with a stone tablet. She also can’t resist listening to her police scanner, and in doing so begins to see a pattern of killings taking place around San Francisco.
On the other side of the law is Hunter as a veteran detective working these murders, eventually meeting up with Weaver who reluctantly agrees to help with the investigation. As both women dig deeper into the cryptic clues they realize too late that a game has been set into motion and they are now active participants.
Structurally, Copycat is like most other 90’s thrillers with its slow burn opening, twisty second act, and tidy finale. It’s not out to redefine the genre nor is it willing to step too far out of its comfort zone. Instead, the film plays into the strengths of both actresses and allows them ample time to flesh out their characters. What we end up with is a compact thriller full of eerie camera angles and gruesome murders. It’s not a spoiler to say that you learn the identity of the killer halfway through but it’s a necessary revelation to propel the movie forward. This also thankfully eliminates the dreaded red herrings that have sunk many a similar thriller.
Though the film may be slightly stuck in the 90’s (the aforementioned computer set-up and Weaver’s costumes that are from Ann Taylor’s 1994 collection) the pacing is very much in line with a thoughtful thriller we’re still seeing today. The supporting players (Mulroney, Patton, Connick Jr, and our killer who I will not identify) all take a backseat whenever our ladies are present..
I’ve held off on talking too much about Hunter because watching the film again I was struck by what a dynamite job she did with the role. I actually think her character was good enough to warrant a spin-off film and would love to have seen Hunter tackle the role again with the right team in place. Hunter was in a short-lived television series but could easily have parlayed this Copycat character into the small screen as well. Weaver’s arc probably ended here but she too could have moved forward with Hunter in another outing.
Amiel brings an off-kilter look to the film with hardly any angle being a straight shot. Everything is filmed slightly askew which instantly puts the audience off step. It’s a clever device that, when matched with Christopher Young’s score (which you’ve heard in about 1,000 previews since) creates a nice atmosphere. As it stands, Copycat still works as slick entertainment without having shed too many lives in the decades since it was originally released.