Shout out if any of this starts to sound familiar, okay? A bunch of strangers are trapped in an isolated motel after flash floods close down all the roads. As the night drags on, someone starts killing them off one by one. They first think it's the handiwork of an escaped killer, but soon begin to suspect that one of their own may be doing the slicing and dicing...
It's a rip off of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, isn't it? With a dash of The Cat And The Canary and a huge dollop of Psycho thrown in for good measure. Enjoyable enough in a mechanical way, but far too predictable to offer any shocks.
That's what director James Mangold wants you to think, anyway. The Cop Land and Girl, Interrupted helmer spends a solid hour setting up a movie straight out of Alfred Hitchcock's Big Book Of Jumpy Clichés. The skewed camerawork, the conveyor belt of clues, the here-comes-a-surprise use of music, and the assortment of (jaw-droppingly brutal) shocks ought to be enough to convince you of that. And if all that doesn't, the stereotypical characters should do the trick: John Cusack's a take-charge chauffeur, Amanda Peet plays a hooker with a heart of gold and Ray Liotta pops up as a hard-bitten cop. If they'd only had room for a good-hearted granny and a guitar-playing nun, the film would boast the complete set of disaster-movie cardboard cut-outs.
So there you are at the hour mark: slouched in your seat, halfway towards guessing the murderer and congratulating yourself about just how smart you are. Which is exactly the moment Mangold yanks your expectations out from under your feet, sending you flying arse over assumptions into a film much stranger, darker and nastier than you ever expected.
You see, Identity doesn't so much twist as turn itself inside out, managing to cram in at least two hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck moments of blinding realisation that would have done The Usual Suspects very proud indeed. As the red herrings fall away and the seconds zap by towards an alarming conclusion, you realise just what Cusack and Liotta - actors of real quality - are doing in such a seemingly simple film.
To say any more would be to risk ruining one of the creepiest movie experiences of the last few years. Sit yourself down in the cold light of day and you might - but only might - be able to pick holes in the logical structure of what follows. In a darkened cinema though, Identity drags you through a thoroughly unnerving, totally unexpected endgame with brisk, bullish confidence.
A creepy con-trick masquerading as a glossy Hollywood stalk-and-slash, Identity transforms a set of clichés into a guaranteed hair-raiser. Trust us, it will haunt you for days.