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Horsemen: Will You Come and See

August 18, 2009

Death is what happens at the end; war is everything else.

on a pale horse

On a cold winter day Detective Breslin arrives at a crime scene.  Standing ominously in the middle of a frozen river, a metal stand holds a silver tray.  Written on each of four trees, positioned east, west, north, and south, are the words “Come and See.”  Breslin effectively “lifts the veil,” unleashing demons of a biblical nature.

Cut to the following morning.  Breslin (Dennis Quaid), still dressing, stumbles down the stairs in search of coffee.   A note on the cabinet informs him of a need for breakfast food. He glances over his shoulder at his son.  Alex (Lou Taylor Pucci), reading the morning paper, never looks back.  Dad drops a twenty dollar bill on the table and heads off to work.

Jonas Akerlund’s Horsemen, scripted by Doom’s David Callahan, tells the convoluted story of Detective Aiden Breslin, workaholic, widower, and father of two.  Moving obsessively from case to case, he has fallen into a pattern of reckless despair.  Struggling to suppress the memories of his dead wife, he has successfully removed himself from the living world.

open your eyes

Walking aimlessly among the dead, each case provides Detective Breslin his life blood while leaving his children as the sacrificial lambs.  Sitting quietly in church on Sunday morning, Breslin is called to the next crime scene.  Dropping a twenty on Alex’s bible, he rushes out without so much as a word, leaving Alex alone and in charge of youngest son, Sean (Psych’s Liam James).

The first discovery is gruesome; a woman hangs limply within a custom built contraption designed to suspend a person in midair.  Held in place by a series of hooks, it is like a scene out of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.  Called suspension, this is considered the “next step in the evolution of tattoos and piercings.”  A strategically placed hole in her chest lends a major clue to the killer’s skills and the words “come and see” are again scrawled on the walls of the bedroom.

These are powerful images; the victims hang limply while chunks of flesh pull away from the bone against the weight of their dead bodies.  It is hard to imagine someone choosing to place themselves in this situation; it is harder still to imagine someone forced into it.  But this is only the beginning of Breslin’s journey.  Further investigation reveals more bodies, more clues, and more confusion.  And as he delves deeper in the twisted mind of the serial killer/s, it becomes painfully clear that his own life is somehow at stake.

another clue?

Each brutal discovery is matched in intensity by each tragic scene between father and son.  Horsemen, for a while, is really two movies in one.  Director Akerlund wants desperately to balance the film’s grotesque with the tragic betrayal of childhood innocence.  Bodies, living and dead, are left to hang like pieces of meat; they are nothing, “we are nothing.” But the parallel structure reveals itself too soon, however, leaving the film’s final act somewhat predictable.

But this is Quaid’s show and watching him slowly deteriorate from the effects of obsession and guilt is pure magic as he transforms himself both physically and emotionally.  Pucci is equally subtle in his portrayal of a lonely teenage boy in desperate need of his father’s attention.  Left to fend for himself, he wears sadness and disappointment just beneath the surface.  Horsemen is a film propelled, and thus saved, by its actors, each of whom delivers a skilled and powerful performance.

Horsemen is, in the end, a story of a father’s failure, a cop’s obsession, and a man’s lonely struggle.  Raising children in today’s world presents unique challenges, and the internet has created worlds of unknown dangers and dark alleys.  Often compared with Seven, and with a few moments seemingly lifted directly from Fincher’s masterpiece, Horsemen does, however, manage to forge its own twisted path; and although the film’s conclusion may seem rushed and messy, it only mirrors the reality of life.  The world is too big and full of too much danger; one only has to “come and see” in order to understand.

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