Dark Tourist (2012)
Director: Suri Krishnamma
Starring: Michael Culditz,Melanie Griffiths, Pruitt Taylor Vince.
UK DVD Release October 27th from Monster Pictures UK
Produced by Susan Delaurentiis and directed by Suri Krishnamma (‘Bad Karma’) ‘Dark Tourist’ (meaning ‘one who travels with the intent to visit scenes of tragedy or disaster’) is a morbid character study of a person who not only studies and desires darkness and morbidity themselves but is haunted and controlled by a brutally violent and abusive past.
Michael Culditz (from TV’s LA police drama ‘Southland’) plays an unhinged cigarette smoking, egg-munching (and both at the same time) security guard called Jim who loves his job and is prone to the odd outburst of homophobic and racist comments and plagued by a generally hateful train of thought. As Jim quietly seethes with a high-level of contempt for his fellow man we soon learn that he, like David Duchovny’s yuppie photographer in the 1993 Brad Pitt thriller Kalifornia, likes to visit the locations of places where instances of extreme abuse or murder have taken place.
Unlike Duchovny he is not there to document the grimly historic sites, but to wallow in the mire of their atrocities and try and imagine and re-live the violent events that have taken place there. It is in these dark places and by conjuring entities such as his favourite serial killer (played in typically creepy fashion by horror and thriller stalwart Pruitt Taylor Vince) that Jim thrives, like the narrator from Fight Club descending and transforming, not into Tyler Durden, but American Psycho’s relentless and vocation-loving psychotic Patrick Bateman.
Melanie Griffiths appears as Betsy (a nod to Cybill Shepherd in Taxi Driver)-a fleeting romantic interest in Jim’s life, but unlike Reba Mclane(The Tooth Fairy’s unwitting muse in Manhunter and Red Dragon) there is no man for Betsy to save from the monster. Jim has no redeemable qualities, no ‘good’ side.
Even in their initial conversation in the coffee shop Jim lies to manipulate her into feeling for him, displaying conventional traits of a true psychopath and only mimicking human emotion. Jim isn’t in a battle with himself, he is a miscreant completely lost to his demons.
In the third act there are shades of The Crying Game and The Killer Inside Me and Jim seals his fate with the vile battery and abduction of a prostitute he feels shame for desiring and he arrives at the ill fated future his lurid and ruinous past has mapped out for him. The destructive unravelling and mental deterioration of a psychopath has been done many times throughout the history of cinema, often in great style like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Killer Inside Me and Taxi Driver, films which also feature a murderous doomed romance, a graphic bloody beating and scenes in which we hear a jaded monologue as a tortured misanthrope stares transfixed at a TV set. But whereas the anti-heroes in those films are devilishly charming curiosities explored with dreamlike romanticism, the character Jim is abhorrent and his dissolution is cruel, monotonous and purely bleak .
It finishes on a cyclical ending which implies the circle of violence and the voyeuristic curiosity in violence will continue and Jim has become one of his fascinations. Once you adjust to its grim and unsettling tone the film does have three excellent performances from Culditz, Griffiths and Taylor Vince and some extreme scenes of the old ultra-violence but the tropes are now a little too familiar (vitriolic inner monologues, sexual abuse, religious undertones) and the grimy palette and tone of the film conjures the unease of cheap and nasty straight-to-shelf films like Ted Bundy (2002) or Gacy (2003) rather than the classics it undoubtedly aspires to.