People often argue that, as a genre, the horror film is dead. That is not true. Our pals the zombie and the mutant baby from Hell still have a little mileage left in their terror trove, even if the vampire, wolfman and alien are struggling for breath. Nope, if there is one subdivision in the canon of creativity that's on pre-plug pulling life support, it's the mystery. Brain-dead, almost always handled with ham fists and perpetually unable to misdirect the masses, the classic 'who dood it' is now so overdone that is has to resort to personality, not puzzles, to make an impression. Columbo is a popular character and series, not because of the brain teasing tales of crime and the criminal. Nope, Peter Falk is an acting god and he infuses the trench-coated titan with more humanity and presence than most real people have personally. Same with Robby Coltrane's Cracker, a strangely sympathetic lout who doesn't solve cases as much as manhandle them. There is a spark of intrigue in this British bastard, but it's in the way he mismanages his life (in direct contravention to his job skills) not the felonies he foils. Both shows are classics because they understand that, unless you are reading a well-oiled page-turner, getting the audience involved in the investigation of crime is difficult. After the sordid details are divulged, it's all skill, hunches and footwork – definitely NOT stuff of stifling suspense. So you're story better be so airtight that bacteria dies inside it, less you fail to grab your guests.
Sadly, A Killing Spring has a decades worth of spores shooting all the way through it. Indeed, the basic issue with the movie is its total lack of surprise. There is nothing new going on in either the face value story that is the set-up or the seedy shocking subplot that is causing all the carnage. Anyone who's followed the plagiarism cases careening throughout the news recently, or remembers the famous incident of Janet Cooke and the 8-year-old junkie from 1980 will know exactly who the homicidal maniac is within ten minutes. And it's not like the filmmakers try to hide it. In a drama filled with whacked out weirdoes, each seething inside their own private Hell and bulked up with rationales for reckless slaughter, this perpetrating person is picture perfect: A great cook, quite the looker and a calming, cautious and sensitive soul. Premmies just coming out of the womb will recognize this ruse as the classic signs of a deranged psychopath. NO ONE in the world makes sure that the oysters are fresh, the garlic is finely chopped or that their apartment is Ikea designer delicious. People live! People soil! But not our supposedly non-suspect. This individual is a non-insider trading Martha Stewart, Dr. Phil and Joseph Pulitzer all rolled into one slab of sincerity. The FBI should throw out all of their perverted profiles, filled with animal abuse and sexual confusion and start targeting the well groomed and intellectually compassionate. According to A Killing Spring, they are evil incarnate.
But it's not just the lack of suspense or shock that shortchanges this movie. Any sordid saga that begins with the Dean of a college copulating with the underclassmen is doomed from the start. The narrative is only going one wanton way. A Killing Spring tries to mess with this expectation, but by making the monkey lovin' tertiary to the tale, it renders it merely a sordid selling point. We are supposed to be blinded by the booty while the real slayer shenanigans go on around us. Yet even the customary thinning out of suspects is an arena where Spring goes shazbot. For a film that features no less than 12 potential scholar snuffers (Asst. Dean, 2 teachers, 4 college kids, 1 name from the past, a couple of disgruntled parents and some pissed off paramours), to quickly eliminate a half dozen or so doesn't support your secret very well. Instead of being a matter of deduction and clues, it turns out that this is one mystery based in the now classic game of Last Creep Standing. Since we don't have access to half the signs, can't really define the dynamics between the characters and are left hanging, without closure, on several staid vignettes we have to rely on the script to explain it all to us. And even then, when the killer is unmasked and his reasons retorted, when 2+2 almost equals 4 and the planets are nearly aligned properly, we still really don't know WHY? Motive is MAJOR to a crime and yet when the final resolution unfolds, the killer just seems put out, not potentially lethal. The reasons behind the crime spree are barely understood and they really don't match up to the guilty character's actions, both during and before this installment of their life. A Killing Spring just seems happy to reach its reveal and then wants to get while the gloating's good.
In the end, A Killing Spring is no worse than the vast wasteland of issue-oriented melodra-mysteries that Lifetime passes off every day as presentable female pastimes in easy to forget two-hour segments. But since most of those meddling misfires are Geneva Convention worthy experiences in torture, that's not saying much. It is a film that reeks of the formula from whence it was hatched and acted out in a very deceptive, yet decent fashion. Everyone here, from lead Wendy Crewson to ex-Home Improvement child chowderhead Zachery Ty Bryan (here looking especially beefy and bloated) is energetic and believable. Only special guest Michael Ontkean, so far from Twin Peaks that he's forgotten the sound of David Lynch's voice, seems to be sleepwalking through his role. And if awards were handed out for managing to commit the basic elements of film onto screen without finesse, vision or style, director Stephen Williams would win in a landslide. Basically, A Killing Spring is a dizzying bore. It tells a too often told tale of limited interest and even less tension and then tosses in a little blindsiding sub plotting in hopes of rescuing its ridiculousness.