How to ruin your own movie: The Traveler Edition

Time and again I encounter movies where the filmmakers responsible don't seem to have any idea how their stories will be interpreted by the people watching them. Take, for instance, the story of The Traveler, in which Val Kilmer plays the ghost of a drifter that a bunch of cops viciously beat because they suspected he was responsible for the murder of a detective's daughter. Since the state police caught the real killer soon after this vicious torture, the film's main source of character conflict comes from the various ways that the cops have dealt with their guilt and feelings of responsibility in the aftermath of this abuse of power.

Except the conflict doesn't resonate at all with the audience. Why? Because we, the audience, know that Val is, in fact, the real killer, and the state police shot the wrong man. How do we know this? Because, as usual in films featured this way at Castle Vardulon, the filmmaker makes it impossible for us to be surprised by the late-film revelation.

In the film's opening sequence (which is replayed ad nauseum), we witness the killer abducting the daughter in question. In the snippets shown, we learn two important things about him:

He's a beardo with long, wavy hair, wearing a black coat.

He's wearing fingerless black gloves.

Now it's important to remember that these flashes are not from a character's point of view, or a questionable memory. This actually happened more than a year earlier than the main action. Soon after the abduction, the cops grabbed and tried to torture a confession out of Val, who at the time looked-

Exactly like the man we saw abduct the daughter at the beginning, right down to his fingerless gloves:

This is just negligence on the part of the filmmakers. It's not like we're supposed to know this - the characters ever figure it out, and Val Kilmer even gets a big 'bwa ha ha I'm actually the killer' speech right near the end to reveal the 'twist'. The twist that incompetence made obvious just minutes into the movie.

Which brings me to a question - what did the filmmakers imagine was gained by showing the kidnapper in the opening? Play the same sequence, have the girl hear something behind her, and then cut away to the woods as we hear a scream in the distance. Effective, creepy, and the audience will, along with the characters, be filled with doubts over whether they got the right guy.

Is this kind of basic storytelling seriously beyond them?

No comments: