The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Damaged

By George & Josh Bate

Damaged review

There’s nothing like a good plot twist. Sometimes all it takes is an unexpected narrative shift for a film to be elevated from good to great, while some of the greatest films of all time (see The Empire Strikes Back) are known for their jaw-dropping plot twists. Damaged, a new psychological thriller starring Samuel L. Jackson and Vincent Cassel, finds itself in an interesting situation with brilliance in its truly unexpected plot twist and disappointment in its convoluted handling of the twist’s implications.

Damaged follows Lawson (played by Samuel L. Jackson), a Chicago detective who has been on the hunt for a serial killer for some time. When a murder occurs in Scotland that appears to show the same killer is now operating abroad, Lawson journeys to Scotland and teams up with Scottish detective Boyd (played by Gianni Capaldi, who also co-writes the film) and former police colleague Walker (played by Vincent Cassel) to uncover the killer’s identity.

Anyone who has seen the likes of David Fincher’s Se7en and the countless films it inspired will see that the plot description for Damaged isn’t particularly novel. But what the film lacks in novelty, it makes up for in sheer entertainment value. From its initial moments tracking a young woman killed by a hooded killer, Damaged is an unrelentingly gripping film. The plot moves at a brisk pace while never sacrificing narrative approachability, allowing the film to have both an enjoyable energy and compelling mystery to follow.

Damaged review

The mystery sees the audience follow two detectives as they try to identify and capture the unknown killer. Immersion within a murder investigation like this, again, is something we’ve seen many times before, but it doesn’t mean that Damaged falls flat. Quite the opposite, actually. The film, competently directed by Terry McDonough, whose directing credits include episodes of The Expanse and Better Call Saul, entertainingly and intriguingly follows the detectives as they investigate clues and suspects. The focus on the investigation refreshingly takes precedence over fleshing out character relationships, which allows for the film to flow without being hindered by mediocre character development. In turn, the rarer moments when the film does afford time for character development stand out. Samuel L. Jackson offers a solid performance, but it’s Gianni Capaldi who is the real star of the show and he more than capably stands his ground against heavyweights Jackson and Cassel.

The mystery at the heart of the story spans two countries, although the vast majority of the film takes place in Scotland. The similarities between past ritualistic murders in Chicago and a new murder in Scotland sees Samuel L. Jackson’s Detective Lawson journey overseas to get to the bottom of this mystery. Perpelxingly, however, the international nature of this mystery isn’t mentioned nearly as much as one would expect. The investigation focuses heavily on the immediate evidence in Scotland, often making it easy to forget that the whole reason Lawson is here is because of the similarities between cross-atlantic murders. No attempts are made to explore Lawson’s fish-out-of-water experience as an American detective abroad. At times, it feels like this was a tacked-on plot element to make sense of American actor Jackson investigating a murder in a film set in Scotland. When the pieces click into place in the final act, things make more sense, although it’s still rather jarring how this seemingly vital element to the mystery is relegated to the background.

All of this leads to a third act that packs quite the twist. It takes a lot to truly surprise nowadays and yet Damaged does so with an unexpected narrative shift. The twist, although excellent, has various implications for the story that don’t quite make sense. In turn, retrospectively analyzing events becomes a little convoluted. Mostly everything clicks into place with some additional thought, but there are still lingering threads and questions left unanswered.

VERDICT: 7/10

While not offering much new in the area of serial killer psychological thrillers, Damaged triumphs as an unrelentingly gripping mystery film. Samuel L. Jackson and Vincent Cassel provide solid performances as police investigating the murders, while Gianni Capaldi (who also co-writes the film) is the real star of the show here. An enthralling, Se7en-inspired investigation culminates in an incredible plot twist, although the implications of this plot twist make the film’s ending rather convoluted. Inundated with all sorts of films and television, it takes a lot to surprise nowadays, but Damaged manages to do so – both with its excellent plot and its overall success as a psychological thriller.

Damaged is in theaters, on demand, and digital April 12. Check out a trailer for the film below:

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