Like a terra firma Bermuda Triangle, the "Texas killing fields" lie along the I-45 and have served as a dumping ground for some 50 brutally murdered, sexually assaulted female corpses since 1969. DEA agent turned screenwriter Don Ferrarone took an interest in this string of unsolved crimes when he was in law enforcement, and later parlayed it into fictionalized narrative. Connecting through his working relationship with director Ami Mann's father (Michael Mann), Ferrarone tells the story of Little Anne Sliger (Chloe Grace Moretz).
Little Anne is an encapsulation of all the victims of the various killers, while her would-be murderer turns up in a small variety of red herrings. Playing out very much like an extended episode of Law & Order: SVU, Texas Killing Fields pits mismatched cops Brian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Mike (Sam Worthington) — and of course an ex-wife who's also a colleague, played by Jessica Chastain — against the clock when the local girl goes missing. Not that it's any surprise harm could befall Little Anne, as she comes from a poor area and is being raised by a drug addict mom (Sheryl Lee) and a so-wrong surrogate father figure (Stephen Graham)… but for some indefinable reason that's never fully explained, Brian is driven to rescue the child at all costs.
While Morgan and Chastain are slightly overwrought, the rest of the cast is solid given their limited room to roam. Worthington is his usual dour self, and that's fine. Jason Clarke plays a creepy, cruising villain with an old muscle car, and Lee is believable as the beaten-down but loving mother of Anne. Moretz is strong as she can be in her role as white trash, but she's wanly written.
There's a touch of mystery here, not much. There's not a whole lot of suspense either, but a few scenes do pop — especially one in which a potential victim is stalked and attacked in her home. I have to admit, that stirring sequence helped turn the tide for awhile (but then the movie settled back down into its established monotone).
Shot on 35mm in a grainy, austere fashion and using southern-fried music to sweeten the score (nicely done by Dickon Hinchliffe), Mann does a fine job in presenting a bleak, matter-of-fact police procedural TV pilot (in fact, Texas Killing Fields is very reminiscent of AMC's series The Killing). Only problem is, Texas Killing Fields was not made for television.
As a big screen experience, I can't recommend it… especially not to horror fans. There isn't any curio factor here when it comes to the serial slashing, and in fact I have seen much more gruesome stuff on CSI: Miami. Texas Killing Fields is worth as look, but wait for the DVD.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson
* Read our new, exclusive interview with Chloe Moretz