Copycat (1995) — When serial killers run out of ideas

“I’m death and life to you, doc… death and life.”

Justin’s rating: Copycat vs. Catwoman: The fight of the century I’ve been longing to see!

Justin’s review: Serial killers are the evils of the world that we don’t want to see unless it’s through the safety glass of movies. We’re a morbid species. I suppose that as long as we’re sickly fascinated with cold-hearted repeat killers, we’ll be making films about them. And some of them, like Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, and Copycat will be quite good, which makes for a moral paradox. You’re watching a great film about a horrible subject. Hm. Well, as long as you can live with yourself.

What few filmmakers and members of the moviegoing public consciously realize about this genre is that it’s not the gore or horror or suspense that takes a serial killer pic to popularity; it’s the character interaction. Against the backdrop of the worst that humanity has to offer, it’s fascinating to see what personalities develop. We had the mentor-protégée relationship of Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, the twisted romance of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, and in Copycat, there’s the odd couple girl power of Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver.

A serial killer is on the loose, copycatting old serial killers (much like Hollywood copycats old themes for movies again and again and again). Quippy cop MJ (Hunter) is assigned to the case, and enlists the help of agoraphobic serial killer expert Helen (Weaver). MJ is one of those down-and-earthy girls who likes her fast food hot and her world strictly under her iron fist, yet always gives a vaguely sweet act that I’ve seen many a time from a manipulative girlfriend. Sort of like Frances McDormand from Fargo. She and Helen butt heads (not literally, although that would’ve been cool, just think about it) over the case, but Helen sticks around because she’s apparently the only person in the universe who can research serial killers. The FBI? Who’s that?

One thing I really appreciated about Copycat is that it doesn’t play up the “who’s the killer” game that we’ve seen ad nauseum in suspense/horror movies like these. Instead, we’re treated to the killer’s point of view early on. He’s a creepy neo-Mad Scientist, a serial killer for the self-referential generation. The guy looks like a slightly rounder Val Kilmer (who I’ve always thought resembles a serial killer). It proves that a geek with a knife can be way more terrifying than a hulking thug.

The chase ratchets up as the killer begins to target Helen (a victim of a previous serial killer’s attack), and there is much running and ducking and fake scares. I think on some small level, I just like hearing Holly Hunter talk with that drawl. Those two sentences have nothing to do with each other.

It’s not an Oscar classic, but Copycat has gone largely unnoticed, and undeservedly so. We always need another moral lesson from Hollywood reiterating the point that killing people is bad, but making movies about killing people is okay.

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