Ultra-familiar crime material is handled in moodily atmospheric fashion in this debut feature by H.S. Miller.

The story of an alcoholic detective haunted by memories of a horrific past case while investigating a series of murders committed by a presumed copycat killer, "Anamorph" wears its influences -- ranging from Asian horror to French policiers to David Fincher's "Seven" -- a little too heavily on its sleeve. But it does effectively convey a lingering sense of dread that can't be easily dismissed.

Willem Dafoe brings a quiet sense of anguish to his portrayal of NYPD Detective Stan Aubray, who five years earlier was responsible for the in-the-line-of-duty killing of Uncle Eddy, a fiendish serial killer. Now counting the days to his retirement, he finds himself sucked into an investigation of a series of disturbing similar murders, in which the victims are arranged into a series of gruesomely artistic tableaux. (The film's title refers to the technique known as anamorphosis, in which hidden images within a painting can be observed from different perspectives.)

The familiar procedural aspects of the tale are made somewhat more interesting by the horrifically artistic nature of the crime scenes, with Dafoe's character poring over their details with the scholarly fascination of an art historian. Helping him peruse them for clues are his antique dealer friend (Peter Stormare) and his ambitious if less cerebrally inclined young partner (Scott Speedman).

Ultimately, the screenplay cheats a little by ignoring its main themes in its resolution of the case. But there are undeniably arresting moments along the way, thanks to Dafoe's subtly intense performance and the well-crafted visuals.

Clea DuVall delivers a fine turn as a young woman involved in the previous case, and singer Deborah Harry shows up in a cameo as the lead character's less than solicitous neighbor.

IFC Films
Kamala Films
Director: H.S. Miller
Screenwriters: H.S. Miller, Tom Phelan
Producer: Marissa McMahon
Director of photography: Fred Murphy
Production designer: Jackson De Govia
Music: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek
Costume designer: Eric Daman
Editor: Geraud Brisson
Stan Aubray: Willem Dafoe
Carl Uffner: Scott Speedman
Sandy Strickland: Clea DuVall
Chief Brainard: James Rebhorn
Blair Collet: Peter Stormare
Alexandra Fredericks: Amy Carlson
Jorge "George" Ruiz: Yul Vasquez
Killer: Don Harvey
Neighbor: Deborah Harry
Running time -- 103 minutes
MPAA rating: R
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