The Grief Tourist: Munich Film Review

Serial-killer thriller provides an intense performance by Michael Cudlitz, but delivers enough turn-offs for all but the heavily medicated to stomach.

Suri Krishnamma's psychological thriller starring Michael Cudlitz and Melanie Griffith follows a man's dark hobby and his even darker mind.

If there are companies specializing in grief tourism, catering to people who visit scenes of tragedy or disaster, they must have the most depressing booths at travel conventions. And the most seriously deranged customers – at least that is the impression you get after meeting James Tahana (Michael Cudlitz). He’s a night watchman, a loner and a connoisseur of evil and tragedy. His newest obsession is Carl Marznap (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a serial arsonist, whose stomping grounds in rural California James decides to visit for a little R&R. But while Carl is long deceased and no longer a threat, one quickly gets the impression that Jim’s pilgrimage is more than an homage and his “hobby” even less healthy than it seems.

Director Suri Krishnamma has taken it upon himself to create one of the most depressing films of the year – and even though an intense performance from Michael Cudlitz, up two notches from his already intense performance on Southland, should help generate interest, the most likely audience this film will find is late night cable. Or grief cineastes.

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What makes The Grief Tourist so hard to watch is not what happens for most of its slim screentime of 84 minutes, but an impending sense that something sick and brutal is about to happen – and when it finally does, the most prevalent feeling turns out to be relief.

Krishnamma obviously relishes putting in little hints that all is not well in James’ psyche – and so do his co-conspirators. Cinematographer Ricardo Jacques Gale manages to shoot sunlit landscapes as if they were on Mars, while editor Justin Guerri manages to drag out every morbid minute. They are competent craftsmen, but with all of them pulling on one string without a bit of relief for the audience, the result is jarring.

One aspect that could have helped is the storyline involving Melanie Griffith as a waitress and possible romantic counterpart, but unfortunately Griffith’s performance is a flighty as Cudlitz’ is intense. Playing her supporting role in a little-girl-voice that most closely resembles Marilyn Monroe’s birthday greetings to JFK, she never comes across as a possible savior for his troubled soul. The fact that she does not look like a little girl any more does not help either.

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If director Krishnamma really wanted to make a film as depressing (and mostly dull) as The Grief Tourist turns out to be, he has certainly succeeded. But, as with grief tourism as a lifestyle-choice, one is bound to ask why anybody would want to join him on that trip. 

Venue: Munich International Film Festival
Production company: Vision Entertainment Group
Cast: Michael Cudlitz, Melanie Griffith, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Suzanne Quast
Director: Suri Krishnamma
Screenwriter: Suri Krishnamma
Producers: Zachery Ty Bryan, Michael Cudlitz, Susanne DeLaurentis, Frank John Hughes, Adam Targum
Director of photography: Ricardo Jacques Gale
Production designer: Gershom Acuna Hyldreth
Costumes: Maria Lorenzana
Editor: Justin Guerriri
Music: Austin Wintory
No rating, 84 minutes.