Former Houston Movie Examiner for Examiner. Currently a film critic in the Houston, TX area. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society.
Cancerous and Disjointed Yet Effective
It’s amazing that Brazilian director Afonso Poyart’s crime mystery thriller Solace ever saw the light of day. Poyart attached himself to the project in May of 2012 while principal photography commenced the following year. Solace was originally intended for a release in 2015 and even premiered in Turkey in April of that year. The film was originally written as a sequel to David Fincher’s Se7en with the working title of Ei8ht, but was eventually reworked into a stand-alone film. After the film was completed, Solace spent nearly two years on the shelf before being sold to Relativity Media, who then faced Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Lionsgate Premiere acquired the film after Relativity Media’s bankruptcy was settled, who released it theatrically on December 16, 2016.
A string of unusual murders involving victims with a strange wound near the back of the head and a killer who places neatly typed note cards at the scene of the crime as clues leaves FBI Agent Joe Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Agent/Psychologist Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish) stumped. Joe decides to dig up an old trump card to help with the case; a former acquaintance and psychic named John Clancy (Anthony Hopkins) who isolated himself two years ago after his daughter succumbed to leukemia. As John gets more involved with the investigation, he realizes that the killer is also an extremely advanced psychic far more skillful than himself.
Even with its production issues in mind, Solace has some glaring issues with its screenplay, story, and pacing. The film is slow to get moving, seems to purposely enjoy being indecisive as far as which direction it should lead the audience, and feels like a knockoff of Se7en right from the start. Solace is so flawed it basically flaunts its defective demeanor in blatant fashion like a certain scar on a specific psychic’s head. Even with all this in mind, the film is somewhat enjoyable anyway thanks to the solid performances of the cast.
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It’s interesting how the film portrays grief and seclusion. John Clancy has completely separated himself from society as a whole. Once he re-introduces himself to the population, it’s overwhelming for him and for the audience. He has images and visions flow into him whenever he encounters physical contact. This results in some peculiar imagery that is actually foreshadowing, which is basically in the same vein as Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. The John Clancy character has become socially awkward during his isolation and is off in his own world (stares blankly at nothing for long periods of time, doesn’t say much unless directly addressed, etc.) when he's around people as Anthony Hopkins seems to purposely be restraining himself from portraying emotion. It comes to a head when Hopkins lashes out at Abbie Cornish in a way that reminds you of Hannibal Lecter.
The killer believes he’s relieving victims of future pain and misery and he’s always several steps ahead of the authorities. It’s interesting since he purposely states that this isn’t God’s work and he isn’t expecting any sort of recognition. These are strictly mercy killings. He is pulling all the strings while leading John, Joe, and Katherine on a chase that he has planned down to the final confrontation. While the film has obvious similarities to Se7en, it also feels like an extended episode of The X-Files. Solace has a sleek way of showcasing how a psychic like John observes things; he often sees every possibility and scenario of what could happen before it occurs. The film utilizes this once the killer enters the picture as you see multiple versions of this character exploring every option on-screen before finally presenting the reality of the situation.
The editing in the film is bizarre. As if John’s unusual and sharply cut visions weren’t enough, Solace takes multiple music breaks to make it seem as though several music videos are spliced within the film. These sequences typically utilize music that doesn’t fit the film whatsoever and usually showcase someone walking in the rain in slow-motion while smoking cigarettes. The film goes out of its way to have cancer play a pivotal role in the film and have Anthony Hopkins tell a bad joke in the rain by a food truck when it isn’t required or factor into the significance of the storyline. Similarities and connections are one thing, but Solace seems to grasp at straws and force-link everything when it isn’t necessary.
Solace reminds you of a lot of things including Se7en, The X-Files, and even Frailty, but it fails to really soar as its own individual entity. There are definitely moments of intrigue and the cast is fantastic. Colin Farrell and Anthony Hopkins have superb on-screen chemistry and Jeffrey Dean Morgan attempts to display just how talented he is when it comes to illustrating his emotional range in the short amount of screen time he has, but you feel like a psychic when it comes to how predictable and formulaic the film turns out to be. Solace is this damaged and lackluster film that sometimes tip-toes in the category of a beautiful disaster.