The Sweet Hereafter, an account of the grief experienced by a rural community after a schoolbus crash, was Atom Egoyan's breakthrough film. Until then, his output had been confined to the arthouse ghetto, but The Sweet Hereafter secured the Canadian director an Oscar nomination - and a much wider audience. Felicia's Journey, produced by Mel Gibson's Icon label, is another literary adaptation (from William Trevor's award-winning novel) and Egoyan has again crafted an intense, unsettling and cinematic work.
The film avoids many of the clichés of the serial killer picture: there's no feverish/incompetent police investigation, no simplistic `explanation' for the murderer's behaviour, and no gruesome scenes of the killings themselves. Instead Egoyan focuses on the ultimately redemptive encounter between Felicia and Hilditch, which the director describes as a "twist on the story of Beauty And The Beast".
The plot unfolds in a non-linear manner, as Egoyan seamlessly cuts between the present and past of his two central characters. Yet amid all the dramatic contrasts (England versus Ireland, rural versus urban, good versus evil), it emerges that Hilditch and Felicia are both out of step with the present. She comes from a traditional Catholic Irish family, where her father lectures her on the lesson of 1916, and the evils of associating with "the enemy".
Meanwhile Hilditch is trapped in the 1950s, in terms of the furnishings of his house, his musical tastes and his obsessive rewatching of the old programmes. Both girl and man are also locked in patterns of denial, whether it be of themselves or the intentions of others.
The performances here are terrific. Beautiful newcomer Cassidy radiates an innocence and naivety, while Hoskins boasts a perfect Brummie accent. He plays his gentle yet monstrous character - - a man who's seemingly obsessed by control and quite unable to feel - - with chilling restraint.
The resolution may be swift, but Felicia's Journey, enhanced by Paul Sarossy's masterful camerawork and Mychael Danna's emphatic score, is an impressive achievement.