I was a little wary of The Factory, a direct-to-video serial killer thriller starring John Cusack. Sure, the presence of Cusack gave me hope but then there was that whole 'direct to video serial killer thriller' aspect that could have gone either way. Having seen it, I can confirm that writer/director Morgan O'Neill's movie is a lot better than I expected while still falling short of being something that I could whole-heartedly recommend to a fan of the genre.
Cusack plays Mike Fletcher, a weary cop who has been on the trail of a potential serial killer with little success. I say potential because none of the victims have ever been found, dead or alive. For three years, prostitutes have been snatched off the streets of Buffalo, N.Y. never to be heard from again. In the absence of any well-wishers, the only people who truly remember them are Cusack and his partner, Kelsey Walker, played by Jennifer Carpenter.
Dallas Roberts plays Gary, the man that Cusack has been looking for. This shouldn't be considered a spoiler since we see him pick up and murder a hooker in the opening moments of the film. Now, he didn't necessarily want to kill her but she was technically still a he (the operation was merely days away) and that just wasn't part of the deal. No, Gary had something much more involved planned for her, just like all the other girls.
After successfully evading our hero for years, Roberts makes the critical mistake of kidnapping Cusack's teenaged daughter Abby (Mae Whitman). With the stakes having turned personal, Cusack turns into a man possessed. He will stop at nothing to find his daughter, even if it means stepping outside the law that he has sworn to uphold. Meanwhile, Abby will have to keep her wits about her if she plans on escaping the clutches of a madman who has more than just murder on his mind.
On a purely superficial level, O'Neill's film feels like a cookie cutter thriller. The 'driven cop going after serial killer who struck close to home' storyline has been seen umpteen times before and will surely be retold umpteen more. In this case, what keeps the film from being utterly rote and forgettable are a pair of engaging performances by Cusack and Roberts. Cusack brings his typical everyman quality to a role that requires him to be dour and desperate. As a result, he elevates the frantic dad role into a performance streaked with intelligence and emotion. Roberts is equally convincing as the cold, calculating villain who doesn't understand why more folks don't share his perspective of the world.
A stock thriller with a couple of solid performances should be an easy film to recommend on a pure popcorn level. However, something holds back The Factory and puts it in the unfortunate position of dividing its audience. I'm talking about the supremely dumb, bone-headed twist that detonates during the film's climax and blows it to smithereens. Even though it is clumsily telegraphed early on, its execution still doesn't make a lick of sense. O'Neill doesn't just pull the rug out from under his audience. He forgoes all semblance of logic to create an ending that dishonors his own characters. What a shame.
The widescreen image is presented without any noticeable defects. Other than a few shots that display intentional grain, the image is crisp and clear. It is bathed in icy blues and grimy greys that fit the dark tone of the film's subject matter. Shadow detail and black levels are both acceptable.
The audio is presented in an English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. The mix is clean and functional. Dialogue comes through without any issues as well. There isn't much to rave about here but the mix certainly fits the material at hand.
There are no extras to be found.
Writer/director Morgan O'Neill starts with an engaging (if familiar) premise for his thriller. He even secures two lead performances from John Cusack and Dallas Roberts that elevate his material. Just when you think the film will arrive at its logical conclusion, O'Neill takes a left turn into shock and awe territory where twist endings are valued above everything that preceded them. I suspect the finale will divide audiences. Although I didn't appreciate how it tied things up, there are certainly enough positives to be found in the events leading up to it. I'm going to take the middle road on this one and suggest you Rent It.