“Identity” Review

Identity [2003] – ★★★★1/2

👤 An intelligent and claustrophobic horror treat, with one mind-blowing final twist. 

As I was walking up the stairs, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today; I wish, I wish he’d go away.”

Ten strangers: a family of three, a limo driver, a film star, a call girl, a police officer, a convict and a troubled newly-wed couple, get stranded at a remote motel in the Nevada desert on a stormy night. Each of them has a dark secret to hide. When gruesome murders begin to take place at the motel, and the newcomers are killed one by one in a sinister fashion, they soon realise that their encounter is less coincidental than they might have originally assumed. In the background to these events, there is also a post-conviction death penalty meeting taking place, the centre of which is a man called Malcolm Rivers, a mentally-disturbed serial killer. Although at first the movie may appear confusing, all the story events inevitably lead to a logical, well thought-out and fascinating finale.

Directed by James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted (1999), Identity is a gripping murder-mystery with unexpected turns and an unforgettable “twist” ending. Borrowing from Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Michael Cooney (Jack Frost (1997)) wrote a perfect film script, whose intelligence, intricacies and complexities can be compared to those found in such films as The Usual Suspects (1995) and Memento (2000). The film is more thought-provoking than it seems at first. In the beginning, the film introduces each character in a “flashback” style (almost like a thought or a piece of memory in a mind), giving the audience just enough information on each of the characters to be able to process the film’s later events logically. Mangold (the director) keeps all ten characters “active”, never forgetting any of them as the film progresses. The movie also employs clever imaginative event structures, which make the watching even more of a sinister experience. For example, there is a scene where a prisoner is running away from the motel, only to find himself arriving to it. This clever idea reinforces the idea that the motel boundaries are never to be breached. The film’s narrative itself is also ingenuous, with all events and characters inexplicably connected to each other. According to the director, Identity is also a film-noir, portraying wet streets, mercury lights and men in trench coats. As a “single-location” movie, Identity is superb. Recently, a number of films have been made in the same style, most notably Polanski’s Carnage (2011) and Cortes’s Buried (2010). James Mangold stated that he directed a film about “a group of strangers who find themselves trapped within a single locale and forced to confront some kind of a dark secret”. This statement sums-up the film perfectly. 



Identity provides an interesting insight into one of the most misunderstood of all mental illnesses: multiple personality disorder. This rare condition is diagnosed when a person’s mind develops other personalities, and they can be of different sex, race, intelligence and social background, but also may have different heart-rates, body temperatures, hand-writings and opinions. Usually the disorder develops as a result of some extremely traumatic event(s) that happened in one’s past, and personalities emerge as a “defence” mechanism to protect that person’s psyche from having to deal with these horrific events and unpleasant memories. As it is such a fascinating topic, there have been many films dealing with this mental disorder, such as The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Primal Fear (1996) and Fight Club (1999). However, arguably, Identity  goes further than these films in showing the capabilities and consequences of someone living with such an illness. For example, the movie portrays the versatility of the disorder, and displays accurately the disorder as a condition – each of the personalities usually believe that they have this rich, fully-fledged life they lead, containing the past and the present, but also filled with feelings, emotions and plans, which may be completely different from the main personality. This is, in fact, the main premise of Identity.

The cast is good in the film, especially John Cusack (Being John Malcovich (1999)) who is particularly good as humble and reliable Edward, a limo driver; and Ray Liotta (Field of Dreams (1989)) who is also good as Officer Rhodes. 

Overall, Identity is a haunting, gripping and suspenseful horror-thriller, being a real brain-teaser. 


So, what really happened in Identity? Malcolm Rivers, a serial killer, is suffering from multiple personality disorder. It seems that all eleven strangers trapped in the motel, including the hotel manager, are personalities living inside Malcolm Rivers’s mind (presented as the little boy in the motel setting). These people were created by Malcolm, and were named after the American states, for example, Paris Nevada. They also all share the same birthday, 10th May. Therefore, what happens in the motel is not actually real, but rather the internal process going on in Malcolm Rivers’s disturbed mind as he drives to his execution hearing. As Rivers’s medication, designed to reduce his personalities, starts to have a profound effect on his mind, one of the personalities starts to kill all the others, i.e., strangers in the motel. In Malcolm’s mind this process of the “personalities’ reduction” takes the form of the “motel murders”. In the director’s words “motel represents …psychic encasement of the different fractured personalities living inside Malcolm Rivers”.

At some point during the film, Edward (John Cusack) learns that he is just one of the personalities in Malcolm’s head. Equipped with this knowledge, Edward is on the mission: to make sure that the “murderer-personality” is killed, and the innocent personality survives. Here, there is also a theme of “existential loneliness”, as Edward comprehends the whole meaninglessness of his own existence within another person, and confronts the fact that his whole life is just an illusion.

The question then becomes – who was the real killer who committed the gruesome murders? It appears it was the little boy Timothy York (Bret Loehr), and the personalities, which he later killed, including Paris Nevada, were “innocent”. Therefore, as only Malcolm Rivers, the killer, remained, he should have been put to death. He was not, however, because psychiatrists thought that the only one remaining personality was that of Paris Nevada.

The film has one major drawback, and the problem may lie with the script. There is a scene in the film where Timothy leaves a living room to go to an adjoined one, where his injured mother sleeps. After a moment, Timothy returns to the living room, and it subsequently transpires that his mother is dead. Now…this scene is too obvious and has the danger of giving out the entire plot, i.e., that Timothy is, in fact, the murderer. Arguably, without this scene, it would have been impossible to guess who the true murderer really was –  until the very end. 


6 Comments Add yours

  1. beetleypete says:

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    Liked by 1 person

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