Texas Killing Fields has all the potential to be a great film. With a star-studded cast, a unique setting rich with character and a storyline that, when verbalized, is enough to send chills down your spine, the film has all the makings of a truly suspenseful edge-of-your-seat thriller. The lack of character and story development and the disappointing climax, however, make the movie forgettable and unsatisfying.
Directed by Ami Canaan Mann, Texas Killing Fields follows two headstrong, clashing detectives, Mike (Sam Worthington) and Brian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), through a small town in South Texas as they track a sadistic serial killer who dumps the bodies of his female sexual assault murder victims in a wide stretch of barren wasteland — the “killing fields.”
The film opens with the death of a young prostitute and the disappearance of another young woman, igniting a cat-and-mouse chase in which the killer predictably catches on and starts playing games with the detectives using hints and mind games.
When the killer kidnaps Little Anne, a young, bright girl living in sordid conditions — a girl Mike and Brian have taken a liking to — the plot minimally thickens as the stakes are raised for the two detectives.
The young girl’s fate was blaringly obvious from the beginning as she was repeatedly placed in ominous situations, lending the viewers to predict she was the killer’s next victim from the start.
The film has a strong premise, but it suffers from constantly straying off-point and introducing a surfeit of characters who, though interesting, have little to contribute to the plot and whose fates were left unresolved at the film’s conclusion.
Though Worthington and Morgan give convincing and powerful performances, their characters are underdeveloped in the script and their personalities are at times annoyingly indistinguishable.
Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life, The Help) stars as Pam, a detective who also happens to be Mike’s ex-wife. Though Chastain’s talent as an actress is undeniable both by her onscreen performances and her impressive credentials, her character in this film is frustratingly nondescript.
Furthermore, the failed marriage between her and Mike is alluded to only a few times, leaving the audience craving a bit of personal background and history to the potentially interesting couple. The young Chloë Grace Moretz shines as Anne, giving arguably the best performance of the lot; however, her character also suffers from an underdeveloped script.
Though based on a haunting true story undeniably worthy of a big-screen portrayal, Mann’s film fails to encompass the enormity of the real-life tale because of a too-narrow plotline; in the actual killing fields just outside Texas City, more than 50 corpses of young female victims of a serial killer have been discovered since 1969 — and the case was never solved.
Though the film alludes to the scale and atrocity of deaths, it focuses too narrowly on two individual cases: the disappearance of the young woman early in the film and the disappearance of Anne. The film would have benefited from further context development regarding these horrendous killing fields to increase the stakes for the two young women and for the two detectives assigned to the case.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its moments. Within the first 20 minutes, Texas Killing Fields is sure to leave the audience literally screaming, in response to a masterfully portrayed suspense scene that establishes the killer from the get-go as a ruthless, merciless monster.
Furthermore, the cinematography — particularly in those first 20 minutes — is poignant, yet chilling, featuring haunting shots of the decrepit town and barren fields set to eerie yet beautiful music.
The bar is set high, but the rest of the movie fails to grip or compel as hoped. Even the climax, which solves the underlying mystery of the entire film, is not-so-subtly hinted from the beginning and fails to astonish as originally anticipated.
Though it masquerades as a fast-paced thriller with high stakes and abundant surprises along the way, the film suffers from underdevelopment and insignificant twists, ultimately rendering it unsuccessful in achieving the grandeur it promises.