It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The serial killer movie, perhaps now finally unable to compete with superhero franchises and bleak reality, has been circling the cultural drain for some time. As it refuses to go down and stay down, it shows itself in some unusual and unusually desperate-looking shapes. “Solace,” starring Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Abbie Cornish, directed by Afonso Poyart, is an ostentatiously busy mish-mash of thriller tropes and clichés, enlivened (or so it might believe) by fancy CGI-enabled visual overstuffing.
The movie opens with Morgan and Cornish, as FBI agents Joe Merriweather and Katherine Cowles, investigating a peculiar murder. The victim sits, eyes opened in a perfectly poised position, killed by a supposedly pain-free spiking to the medulla oblongata. This is, we later learn, the third such killing. But oddly enough, the victims have little to connect them in terms of class, race, or age—one of them was a little boy, as it happens. “I need to go see him,” Merriweather tells Cowles as they leave the crime scene and stand in the Significant Weather that this movie’s always throwing at us. If it rains as much in this Georgia-set movie as it did in “Seven,” there’s a reason for that: this movie’s script, here credited to Ted Griffin and Sean Bailey, originated as a kind of sequel to “Seven.”
But never mind that, who’s “him?” He is John Clancy, a one-time colleague of Merriweather’s who now, after personal tragedy, lives as a recluse in a barely furnished house in a remote rural area. John is played by Anthony Hopkins, and he’s a psychic. The kind that sees things … too many things … and he sees them when he touches a person. Hence, on putting his hand on Cowles’ shoulder, the viewer gets a flash-frame of Abbie Cornish with red blood seeming to flood from a spot above her forehead. Something bad’s going to happen to her. Something bad’s going to happen to Merriweather too. Later on we learn that Clancy doesn’t just see the future, he sees a multiplicity of futures. This is where the visual overstuffing comes in; many scenes show a particular character multiplied into tens of selves, going different ways within different settings. I’m making it sound “neat,” but it actually plays as “possibly exhausting, in the event that you were interested, only because all the characters are so rote, you’re not.”
Hopkins, who is also an executive producer on the movie, doesn’t exactly phone in his performance. But since Clancy is genius-level brilliant, like Hannibal Lecter, and has great stores of compassion like Doctor Frederick Treves, and is also world-weary and consumed by confused grief, like Henry Wilcox, Hopkins is treading familiar ground here. Only it’s with a character who’s not nearly even close to being as well-written as the three I just mentioned (he played Lecter in films I need not mention, Treves in “The Elephant Man,” and Wilcox in “Howards End”).