Solace opens with a beeping hospital monitor over a black screen, and within the first 10 minutes or so, it also serves up a zoom out from a macro close-up of an eyeball, to a shot down a spiral staircase, and someone looking at their reflection in a badly cracked mirror. Having established that there’s no visual cliché of the thriller genre it won’t employ, the movie proceeds to knock off the plots of both The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en, combined with the exhausted scenario of a psychic helping the cops track a psychopathic killer.
In this case, clairvoyant John Clancy (a white-mulleted Anthony Hopkins—who also, for some reason, signed on as an executive producer) is called out of self-imposed retirement by detectives Joe Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish) to assist with a particularly baffling case. Dead people who seem to have no connection to each other are turning up, bearing fatal injuries evidently intended to make their demises as swift and painless as possible. As the title (which is helpfully defined for us at the film’s start) makes clear, these aren’t random slayings but mercy murders, revealing the malefactor to be on a twisted moral quest whose endgame must be sorted out by Clancy before more people die.
The victims may not be tortured, but the movie’s history sure is. Solace was filmed over three years ago and is just now slinking into limited-theatrical and on-demand release, and its screenplay (by Sean Bailey and Ted Griffin) has been kicking around since the early 2000s. At one point, New Line Cinema was in fact developing it as a Se7en sequel, and it has been worked over by the likes of Zodiac scripter James Vanderbilt and, of all people, double Oscar nominee Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon, The Last King of Scotland). Somehow, all the rewriters managed not to update details like Clancy receiving an unnerving message from the murderer on a fax, though that’s the least of the stuff they should have changed. Like, f’rinstance, the attempt at a shocka moment via the revelation that a peripheral male character slept—gasp!—with a man! And that as a result, he—ohmigod!—contracted AIDS!
And someone certainly should have given a major revision to Cowles, who has no wit or humor, and (as opposed to Merriwether, who’s got a happy home with wife and kid) has no life—because, you know, professional women and all that. (Actually, she does have shreds of a life, but as revealed in callous exposition from Clancy, it’s all miserable—because, you know, professional women and all that.) As it stands, Solace feels like it’s one more rewrite away from being a parody of its genre—especially when, at about the hour mark, Colin Farrell abruptly shows up as the Special Guest Villain to deliver an exposition dump about his m.o. and Clancy’s part in his diabolical master plan. (No spoiler here; any Kevin-Spacey-in-Se7en—esque surprise to this revelation has been blown by Solace’s ad campaign.)
Brazilian director Afonso Poyart shoots all this with a familiar litany of handheld shaky-cam, unmotivated snap zooms, and jaggedly edited montages meant to represent Clancy’s psychic visions. These jumble together images like a growling dog, a breaking baby bottle, the only train-platform newsstand you’ll ever see topped by a big neon sign, and the ever-popular slow-motion drop of water. (It’s the sort of stuff people sometimes say rips off David Fincher’s direction of Se7en, when what they mean is it’s imitating Kyle Cooper’s classic title sequence.) At two points, people in those visions separate into multiple incarnations scurrying around the setpiece; the meaning of this bit of digital trickery is as inexplicable as how a bloodhound can, in one sequence, take a single sniff of a piece of evidence and then lead a full FBI battalion halfway across town, several floors up into an apartment building, and directly to an evildoer’s door.
For all his telepathic gifts, it turns out, Clancy is a bit slow on the uptake about certain things. “Something bad is about to happen, something really bad,” he says midway through Solace—long after audiences will have discovered that he’s absolutely right.