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A chilling re-imagining of Edgar Allen Poe's timeless story The Tell Tale Heart. Hardworking single dad Terry (Josh Lucas) has a new lease on life, he has recovered from a recent heart transplant and met a beautiful woman. But things go awry as he becomes
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As usual Brian Cox gives a solid performance.
It has been too many years since I read Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart so I am not qualified to compare that story with this movie.
Regardless, this movie stands on its own.
We never find out how the heart donor is possessing the man. Is it the donor's ghost? Or is it cellular memory? (An as-yet-unproven paranormal theory that every cell in the human body retains memory, not just the brain.) The film doesn't even try to explore the cause, though it would have made for an interesting angle.
So the man goes about killing his heart donor's murderers. The murders are not too gory. They mostly occur unseen. A man is stabbed, we see him grimace, but don't actually see the knife penetrate. Another man is pushed ahead of an oncoming train. We don't actually see him torn and splattered. That might disappoint gorehounds, but I found the events interesting enough, the characters and their reactions fully-fleshed enough, not to be bothered by the lack of gore. (Well, there are scenes from the heart transplant surgery, which some might find pretty unsettling.)
An interesting subplot is this man's daughter, who has a rare genetic disorder. It causes the bones to fuse together. I found that more horrifying than the other events in this story.
Lena Headey plays the love interest. She reveals some shocking secrets toward the end. Headey starred in one of the 5 Best horror films of this century's first decade (2000-2009) -- The Broken -- a creepy film about doppelgangers.
The police detective is played by Brian Cox, who you might remember as Samara's father in The Ring, another one of my 5 Best horror films of the aughts (as the first decade of any century is known).
By contrast, Tell Tale is a so-so film. No, it doesn't have anything to do with the Poe story. It's foundation concepts are not entirely original. But it made for an entertaining way to pass the time. Professional production values -- photography, sound, acting, editing. Good editing in that this is a short film, no padding, the story doesn't drag.
This is another of those pleasant-surprise films that simply disappeared into the ether. It showed at Tribeca, failed to find an American distributor, and went straight to DVD a year later. On the other hand, successful festival runs in other parts of the world led to theatrical releases in France, Singapore, Greece, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, Australia... and the list goes on. Why is it that other countries are so able to recognize the worth of smaller American films, while those of us who like to see things on the big screen are so often spoon-fed the lowest common denominator? (I already think I know the answer to that question, but I'm hoping if I keep asking it, the studios who refuse to take chances on intelligent, low-budget movies like this will get the hint.)
This is, in fact, an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", but it's not one you're likely to recognize. Scriptwriter Dave Callaham (The Expendables) turned the story on its head; in this case, we have a heart transplant patient who has also gained some of the memories of the donor, who was murdered. Terry (Poseidon's Josh Lucas), said patient, becomes obsessed with solving the donor's murder. Problem is, he's becoming somewhat divorced from his own reality, which places a strain on his relationship with Elizabeth (300's Lena Headey, currently filming the Game of Thrones adaptation for HBO), his daughter Angela (Toy Story 3's Beatrice Miller)'s doctor. It's not enough Terry's got a bad ticker, his kid has a nasty, and incredibly rare, genetic defect. Not a lucky family by any means, right? So maybe it's not all that bad a thing when Terry starts gaining not only the donor's memories, but also his personality. (Here's a great example of possession for you: his blood type changes to the donor's. According to the doctor in the film, it's rare, but does happen; I have yet to be able to substantiate this with my own research.) Certainly not in the eyes of Sergeant van Doren (Red's Brian Cox), the lead detective on the case. Why not let the inspired amateur do all the work for him? Problem is, the donor doesn't just want answers, he wants revenge.
I've only touched on the cast here, which also includes Michael K. Williams (The Road) Ulrich Thomsen (Adam's Apples), Jamie Herrold (Natural Born Killers), Dallas Roberts (Walk the Line), and a host of other luminaries you'll probably recognize just enough to say "hey, I know that guy, but can't place him...". They're all good actors, and they all turn in solid performances here. Well, almost all. Headey stretches probability a few times, though that is less a function of her acting ability than it is the script needing her to not kick this guy to the curb. She does the best she can with the movie's main weakness. The mystery angle is solid, and while you probably won't be terribly surprised by it (it's a common enough urban legend that I can think of at least three films off the top of my head that use it), it matches up with everything that comes before it. Callaham knows how to write a mystery. Which kind of surprises me given his other output; this is by far the best work he's ever produced. Cuesta, on the other hand, is solid through and through, having turned in the movie L. I. E. and long, successful stints on both Six Feet Under and Dexter. You probably missed this one the first time around, unless you live on the Lower East Side. It's worth discovering now. *** ½