Films about psychopaths, throughout all their shapes, sizes and faces, are an odd sort in the fact that if they’re not reliant on supernatural influences, the narrative ends up as an extensive character piece with an aura of horror permeating through a powerhouse performance. In the past, such performances carved out careers for Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Peter Lorre in M, and gave way for international cinema to redefine the serial killer genre within the last decade. However, it’s also a risk in the fact that if the character isn’t developed well enough or is too disconnected to understand, a serial killer film can sink like a heavy stone and drag until the end credits. Fortunately, Suri Krishnamma’s Dark Tourist (now in select theaters and VOD from Phase 4 Films) doesn’t sink down, offering an interesting new view into the serial killer thriller, although often times becoming bogged down by its independent nature.
Dark Tourist finds an emotionally and mentally unstable security officer as he goes on a “grief tour”, visiting the spots of an infamous serial murderer years ago as his troubled past haunts him. The film definitely finds its footing in its voyeuristic and unsettling aspects, as we’re put into the mindset of this burgeoning psychopath from the very beginning. Coated with a sweaty mixture of darkness and sleaze, Dark Tourist avoids making this piece an exploitation picture by offering an out for our damaged narrator and rarely indulges in the bloodier aspects of the film, relying on the audience’s imagination to fill the gory edges itself. In fact, the film actually plays surprisingly quietly, and aside from a few awkward moments of unnecessary exposition, there’s a good amount of character development seen strictly through the physical action of the piece.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned exposition keeps Dark Tourist from reaching a spot of true greatness, as the interesting elements of the characters within the script are repeated and explained so thoroughly that viewers may find it difficult to actually keep up with the story on screen. And while we view the main character going deeper into his darker shell and watch his soul drained from him, the audience may have a difficult time relating to the character when his motivations go from piqued to out-and-out horror in mere hours. Fortunately for the film, however, director Suri Krishnamma and scribe Frank John Hughes create an array of fascinating and flawed characters to watch on screen as the film burns along with the array of cigarettes from the lead, especially through the sepia saturated lens of Ricardo Jacques Gale.
Of course, there’s no question that Michael Cudlitz dominates this picture with his performance of Jim Tahana, the titular tourist of the film. Cudlitz portrays Tahana as a gruff but wounded creature, prone to outbursts and irrational tantrums yet desperate for a life to call his own. Cudlitz is rather astounding when the script allows him to be, offering a much darker and sinister character than he’s ever previously portrayed and surprisingly pulls it off with incredible finesse. The rest of the cast holds the fort when they need to as well, with a strong and infectiously pleasant Melanie Griffith as Tahana’s potential love interest and a brooding Pruitt Taylor Vince as the hallucinated murderer whose ground Tahana treads on. Dark Tourist also sports a really impressive performance from Suzanne Quast as a prostitute who is more than meets the eye, pulling off the role with a gaze-stealing dominance and selling her shocking reveal with no reservation.
As a character piece, there are quite a few flaws of Dark Tourist, whether it be the occasional sign of the film’s low budget within the production value or the at-times in-your-face writing, but the film is still impressive enough on its own merits to warrant a view. Cudlitz gives a mesmerizing and complex performance that won’t be forgotten anytime soon, and with the rest of the supporting cast in tow, Dark Tourist is a worthy entry into the serial killer subgenre. Director Suri Krishnamma does an equally impressive job with the material and budget he had, and will definitely be a director to keep an eye on in the genre world in the days to come. Dark Tourist may not be the most memorable or horrifying take on the perturbed obsessive, but as a voyeuristic showcase for Cudlitz and the engaging story, Dark Tourist offers to take even hardened audiences to disturbing places.
– By Ken W. Hanley