Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language
Directed by: Jon Amiel
Written by: Ann Biderman & David Madsen
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Holly Hunter, Dermot Mulroney, Harry Connick Jr., William McNamara, J.E. Freeman & Will Patton
Serial killer movies are a dime a dozen. It would take a really masterful twist on the well-worn formula to make a thriller stand out from the rest of the overpopulated pack. That’s exactly what COPYCAT does. This thriller will delight for fans of true crime as well as those who want to watch a semi-original take on a subgenre that’s become clichéd at this point. Though it was a success at the box office and well received by critics at the time, 1995’s COPYCAT has faded into obscurity and gained status as a hidden gem. That’s a shame too, because this really is one of the better thrillers to come out of the 90’s and it deserves more attention.
Helen Hudson, a well-renowned expert on serial killers, frequently makes speeches at colleges across the country. When one of her presentations ends in disaster (one cop dead and her having a near-fatal encounter with a serial killer), the former field expert becomes an agoraphobic shut-in. MJ Monahan, a loose cannon cop who doesn’t play by the rules, is currently investigating what appears to be a new serial killer on the streets of San Francisco. Aided by Helen, MJ discovers that this new serial killer is actually imitating old murderers (The Boston Stranglers, Son of Sam, Jeffrey Dahmer, etc.). The psychopath has also taken up to stalking Helen and toying with the cops. It’s up to Helen and MJ to stop this monster before he strikes again!
COPYCAT is a very cool movie, especially if you’re a true crime buff. Attention to detail in some of the crime scenes should immediate alert those who know their morbid history as to whom this new psycho is now imitating. I was actually horrified during the latter half in which I immediately recognized who he was copying and things was going to get nasty. The mystery in this film doesn’t feel at all cheap and actually goes out of its way to set up clues in the first half that you don’t really notice until they are neatly revealed come the last act. The screenplay also makes the ballsy move of keeping the viewer one slight step ahead of the cops. While most clichéd serial killer thrillers might go out of their way not to reveal a good amount about the central villain, COPYCAT gives the viewer slightly more information than expected about its title character. With every piece of the puzzle given, the movie gets creepier and creepier. There are still a handful of mild clichés, including the MJ’s hollow police partner as well as a shooting that felt very unnecessary, but these don’t detract too much from the film as a whole.
The performances here are pretty great for what might have initially appeared to be a standard killer thriller. Sigourney Weaver brings the agoraphobic Helen to life as a complex character who can be annoying at times, but her actions and personality are totally understandable given the trauma that she’s been through. Holly Hunter is also compelling as MJ. Though some of the other characters might seem like been-there done-that cop stereotypes, the script actually builds solid relationships between them. Harry Connick Jr. is appropriately icky as a serial killer who happened to be one of Helen’s former subjects, but he can get a little too over-the-top with a cheesy Southern accent. The actor playing the actual Copycat killer does a phenomenal job of acting like a real serial killer would act. He unassumingly blends into his surroundings until he finds his prey and then strikes. That being said, there’s a ridiculous monologue near the end of the film that bears more than a little resemblance to overused motivations by other psychopaths in film. To be fair, the three other films that immediately sprung to mind during this speech were SCREAM, SE7EN and 15 MINUTES…which were all made after this film’s release.
Though it can be familiar in areas, COPYCAT is a remarkably solid thriller. The story kept me on the edge of my seat, while also providing little winks for those viewers who know their true crime. Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter are two heroines worth rooting for, while the main villain is played in a very disturbing manner (as he should have been). The mystery is interesting all the way through and I was genuinely surprised by certain developments. COPYCAT comes highly recommended for those who want a freaky thriller.