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September 23, 2015

Film + EntertainmentReview | by Francesco Cerniglia


At one stage in its lengthy pre-production, Solace was billed as a sequel to Seven (1995), with Morgan Freeman set to reprise his role as Detective Somerset in hunting down yet another grisly, quasi-religious serial killer. The script eventually reverted to its original form, with Anthony Hopkins’ psychic doctor replacing Freeman’s grizzled detective, but the spectre of David Fincher’s pitch black film hangs over Solace like a shadow, and it never quite manages to step into the light.

Hopkins is John Clancy, a psychic doctor brought in by FBI agents Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Cowles (Abbie Cornish) to help catch a serial killer. The ‘90s TV procedural set-up is a ropey starting point from which the script never quite recovers, not least in its firm refusal to even engage with the question of why the FBI would hire a psychic, who approved it, and why no-one even seems to have any concerns about the sanity of the agents in question.

Clancy’s predictive abilities are quickly proved for the audience (don’t worry, no time is wasted on any pesky ambiguity here), and come in the form of quick-cut visions with the temperament of a particularly aggressive Lady Gaga music video. Director Afonso Poyart, here making his English-language debut, uses the chance to show off some visual flair, not least in a couple of moments that show copies of people spinning out from each other as Clancy perceives multiple possible futures, but too often these segments smack of film school pretension, glossy style without much of substance.

Hopkins offers a subdued, weary performance, his Clancy tired of the world and battling his own demons beyond the mounting corpses under investigation. It makes for an interesting character, for the most part, but clashes uncomfortably with the lead role that the script puts him in, robbing some of the film’s final sequences of the propulsive energy they need.

Morgan and Cornish turn in perfectly serviceable performances as glowering feds, though both characters feel like missed potential. Cornish in particular is underserved, her Cowles expressing the film’s only scepticism towards the psychic realm, but it’s a brief, flickering suggestion, and she’s never given the chance to develop it. Towards the end, Colin Farrell rears his head as the killer, in a structural echo of Seven, but suffers from the comparison to that film’s Kevin Spacey. Farrell is at best forgettable, offering nothing close to his best work, and the lack of a strong villainous presence only serves to further undermine the faltering third act.

Where the film feels more successful is in its tone, which for the most part remains delicately unnerving. There’s gore, of course, including one moment of especial grotesquery, but more affecting is the consistent sense that things are skewed, predetermination adding an unsettling inevitability to the violence. The screenplay plays with the concept well, and uses it to offer a novel twist on one familiar trope, going some way to assuage concerns about the premise’s gimmickry in the process. Frustratingly, the procedural structure gets in the way, restricting the exploration of these ideas until after the killer’s identity is revealed.

Solace is not quite a success, but not a total failure. It feels instantly dated, as if it’s ignored the 20 years since Seven’s release, and is hampered by overwrought direction and clunky dialogue, but Hopkins remains a formidable screen presence and there are moments when the film seems to rise above itself, hinting at its own untapped potential.

Solace is released in UK cinemas on September 25th

Dominic Preston