By: Trevor Chartrand
A plain and passable thriller, The Postcard Killings is stamped with mild mystery and timid intrigue that ultimately doesn’t deliver a whole lot of punch.
The film focuses on a mysterious series of serial murders that take place all across Europe, announced with the arrival of threatening postcards in the city where the next murder will occur. As the villain travels from one country to the next, their ominous postcard message follows them. When a New York detective, Jacob Kanon (The Walking Dead’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan), discovers his daughter is one of the killer’s latest victims, he does what brash Americans do best – he takes the European investigation that spans multiple countries into his own hands, despite being compromised emotionally and way outside his jurisdiction.
Helmed by director Danis Tanović (No Man’s Land), the look and feel of the film is generally bland, with a lot of greys and browns in the colour palette. The filmmakers are evidently going for a dark sort of sepia tone but, for the most part, the look and style is lacking. Visually, the film is more in the vein of a serialized killer-of-the-week television show than a feature film with a unique visual style or vision.
Most likely working on a budget, the filmmakers do pull off a few action sequences (including a car chase) that are effectively produced; edited efficiently enough to hide the imperfections of the stunts. The strings are showing, but just barely, proving a successful collaboration between production and post-production teams. And while we’re giving credit where it’s due, the makeup and effects on the victims’ bodies is disturbingly effective, thanks to the prosthetics team at Millennium FX.
The Postcard Killings’ biggest flaw, however, is the all-too-early reveal of the killer’s identity – making this film a mystery with no mystery. It’s a story convention that rarely works, since the audience is instantly ahead of the protagonist and his ongoing investigation. Gone is the guessing game and audience’s interaction with the story. Once we know the antagonist, viewers will spend more time counting down until the detective figures it out and inevitably detains the killer. There are a few twists along the way, including a clever bait-and-switch about who’s who, and the detective does make a few discoveries about the antagonist’s and their motivation once they’ve been revealed. But once we know who is responsible for the killings, the journey to the film’s inevitable showdown/climax is essentially just filler.
Kudos do go out to most of the cast, including two backpacking would-be victims of the killer played by Naomi Battrick and Ruairi O’Connor. Playing husband and wife, the two have an interesting character dynamic and play with a unique and strangely passionate chemistry throughout the film. As the detective, Morgan turns in a decent performance as well, and it’s refreshing to see him as a humbled, grieving father rather than the arrogant conniving villain he’s known best for on AMC’s The Walking Dead. His character teams up with a journalist, played by Cush Jumbo who also gives an excellent subtle performance for one of the better-written characters in the film. The only performance that doesn’t quite fit in comes from Famke Janssen, who plays Kanon’s ex-wife. Her reactions as the tormented mother are over-the-top and a little more distracting.
The Postcard Killings is a fine enough little thriller that does have plenty of minor twists and turns throughout its narrative – but it’s tough to forgive the early reveal of the killer’s identity. While it may not be the most memorable or the most engaging movie you’ll see this year, the film does successfully weave a thoughtful and contained story that’s a little bland, but by no means boring.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor