Beliefnet
Movie Mom

It was a dark and stormy night.

Ten strangers are stranded at a seedy motel. And then, as one of them later explains, “people started dying.”

At first, it seems that they have nothing in common: a movie star (Rebecca De Mornay) and her limo driver (John Cusack), a prostitute (Amanda Peet), a police detective and his prisoner, a man (John C. McGinley) with a critically injured wife (Liela Kenzle) and her young son, and a just-married couple (Clea Duvall and William Lee Scott). Once they have all assembled and we have established that all communications and exits have been cut off by the rain, scary-movie things begin. Close-ups with suspenseful music mean that something bad has happened or is going to happen just outside the frame. But the conventions of the genre are treated more as traditions and they are expertly handled and wonderfully creepy. As the lower-billed actors get killed off, the remaining characters try to figure out who the murderer is and what the pattern is to the deaths. At first, the murders seem as random as the assortment of people who just happened to be driving by the motel when they were stopped by the storm. But then, as each body has a motel room key counting down in sequence, it seems clear that there must be a connection. It is very tempting to say more, but the plot twist is so, well, twisted that it would be, well, a crime to divulge any more.

This is a thriller with real thrills — both the kind that make you jump and the kind that make you think. It is one of those rare “Sixth Sense”-style puzzles that may send audiences back to see it a second time just for the fun of knowing how it all fits together.

Parents should know that it is a very scary movie with a lot of intense peril and some grisly and upsetting deaths. A character is a prostitute and there are some sexual references, including a discussion of a possible out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Characters drink, smoke, and use strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the enduring appeal of movies about serial killers.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “And Then There Were None,” referred to by one of the characters. Based on Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie, it is the story of a group of strangers who arrive at an isolated location and then start dying off one by one. The best version is the original from 1945, directed by Rene Clair, but the 1965 remake is not bad. The 1974 version is worth watching only for curiosity, however. Take a look at the Christie book, too, which has a more fiendish ending than the movie. Families who enjoy this genre will also enjoy the “Scream” trilogy and “Poltergeist.”

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