'Nomis': Film Review | LAFF 2018

Courtesy of LA Film Festival
Way too impressed with itself.

Henry Cavill and Ben Kingsley co-star in David Raymond’s debut feature, a psychological thriller about a serial killer with multiple personalities.

Crafting an effective police procedural as a directorial debut presents both opportunities and pitfalls for emerging filmmakers. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges lies with navigating the genre’s many memorable classics, from noir-era Hollywood to contemporary crime dramas, in search of an original vision.

With Nomis, however, first-time writer-director David Raymond appears more inclined to rely on precedent than innovation. The film’s starry cast will be a strong selling point, but a plot that’s overly complicated rather than genuinely complex may leave audiences wishing for less incident and more clarity.

Ever since splitting with his ex and losing custody of his teen daughter, the long days and unpredictable nights on Minneapolis’ homicide squad seem to suit Marshall’s (Henry Cavill) newfound susceptibility to insomnia. An unexpected lead following the recent murder of a young woman introduces him to Cooper (Ben Kingsley), a retired judge with a penchant for vigilantism. Working with female accomplice Lara (Eliana Jones), he’s been tracking down pedophile predators and administering an extreme form of outlaw justice, but when Lara goes missing, he turns to his old colleagues on the police force for assistance. Their search leads them to an isolated mansion in the woods, where they break in and rescue Lara and a dozen other women imprisoned in the basement.

During the raid, Marshall collars a middle-aged white male (Brendan Fletcher) suspected of committing the string of kidnappings and murders that almost claimed Lara’s life. Once police profiler Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) begins interviewing him, she discovers that he’s not only deaf, but most likely a paranoid schizophrenic with multiple personalities. The dominant identity calls himself Simon, a fearful man-child who struggles to explain the presence of the captive women in his home. While Rachel attempts to extract any useful information from Simon’s twisted mind, Marshall scrambles to halt a series of deadly attacks on police investigators. Determining that the targeted killings are somehow linked to Simon’s kidnappings, Marshall concludes that another suspect is still on the loose and could strike again at any moment.

Raymond, who also scripted the film, shifts the focus early on from Simon’s victims and his murderous motivations for imprisoning them to identifying the mysterious threat that’s winnowing the ranks of the police department. The tricky task of disgorging clues from Simon’s childlike personality or his seethingly hostile alter-ego falls to Rachel, with each revelation increasing the peril she faces. Meanwhile, Marshall is forced to cast aside his reservations at the behest of police commissioner Harper (Stanley Tucci), partnering with Cooper and adopting some of his unsavory methods in an attempt to flush the elusive suspect into the open.

In fact, the plotting eventually gets so complicated that Raymond resorts to a startlingly implausible second-act twist that feels completely unearned as the movie hurtles toward an unlikely midnight showdown on the slippery surface of a frozen forest lake. Narrative and stylistic references to Se7en, Split, The Silence of the Lambs and other serial-killer thrillers only manage to demonstrate how inadequately Nomis rates by comparison.

The cast handles the sometimes ludicrous plot shifts with relative equanimity, although Cavill seems like he’s trying way too hard to embrace his role as a conflicted cop and father attempting to protect his teen daughter while pursuing a killer ruthlessly targeting innocent young women.

Kingsley benefits from the script’s most detailed backstory as the rogue former judge committed to neutralizing online predators, remaining implacably determined despite sometimes harrowing setbacks. Fletcher provides an intensely focused performance as the mentally and emotionally debilitated suspect, easily outmatching Daddario’s profiler attempting to decipher his cryptic motivations.

Raymond lends the film an impressively polished sheen throughout, incorporating the suitably wintry Canadian locations as integral plot points. The title Nomis represents an anagram of “Simon,” for reasons clarified in the latter half of the movie.

Production companies: Arise Pictures, Arcola Entertainment, Buffalo Gal Pictures, Fortitude International, PalmStar Media
Cast: Henry Cavill, Ben Kingsley, Alexandra Daddario, Stanley Tucci, Brendan Fletcher, Emma Tremblay, Eliana Jones
Director-writer: David Raymond
Producers: Robert Ogden Barnum, David Raymond, Chris Pettit, Rick Dugdale
Executive producers: Peter Aitken, Steve Ashley
Director of photography: Michael Barrett
Costume designer:  Sandra Soke
Music: Alex Lu
Venue: LA Film Festival

98 minutes