The evocatively titled THE KILLING JAR turns out to be a lame psychological chiller that overdoses on the foreshadowing of suspense formula conventions that aren't that compelling to begin with.
Michael Sanford (Brett Cullen) is intent on revitalizing his family's vineyard business, but gets a tepid reception from a community that wants Michael to sell off his heritage to the next generous wine-making conglomerate. Cryptically shielding his concerned wife, Diane (Tamlyn Tomita) from a
painful childhood secret, Michael becomes increasingly moody after driving past the victims of a rampaging maniac who slaughters families on the highway.
Prodded by his wife and the cops--who feel he may be blocking out something that he witnessed--Michael undergoes hypnosis by Dr. Garret (Brion James), uncovering repressed memories that suggest Michael himself could be capable of the highway murders. There are other possible suspects, though: a
group of disgruntled workers out to frame Michael or perhaps dimwitted Petey (John Philbin), a former friend Michael has shunned since a childhood tragedy.
The story is recounted of a boyhood outing during which Michael's dad crashed the family car. This accident left Michael's buddy, Sean Evans, dead and Sean's brother, Danny, injured. Panicking, Michael left Danny trapped in the wreckage. No sooner has Michael recalled these events, than someone
stabs Petey--and Michael finds himself arrested by Sheriff Foley (M. Emmet Walsh) acting on tips from a suspicious Diane. In jail, a stunned Michael is reunited with a grown-up Danny Evans (Xander Berkeley), who has dedicated his life to punishing Michael for deserting him. After Danny coolly
slays Sheriff Foley for recognizing him and departs, a dying Petey staggers into the jail long enough to free Michael. Posing as a cop in order to kill Diane at her house, vengeance-crazed Danny is thwarted by Michael's unexpected appearance--but still manages to stab Michael. Spotting Danny's old
accident scars--and realizing that he, not Michael, is the killer--Diane blows Danny away.
Even if one credits the technically accomplished director for his tarting up of the hallucinatory flashbacks to the highway murder scene, his flashy gifts still service a sloppily written and haphazardly structured thriller. Falling all over itself as it manipulates the viewer into suspecting the
screwed-up Michael, THE KILLING JAR offers only superficial insight into Michael's troubled psyche and Danny's sociopathically twisted morality. One is never sure whether Danny is eliminating happy families purely to set up Michael for a criminal fall or if he actually enjoys wiping out domestic
units as a pathological side-effect of that long-ago trauma. Additionally, Michael's relationship with his confused wife is sketchily developed, and the scenes of Michael's interaction with his grousing laborers are protracted beyond belief. Indeed, this soporific thriller flounders on wasted
motion. Failing to cogently connect Michael's pent-up remorse with Danny's virulent revenge, THE KILLING JAR bottles up its motivational emotions so hermetically that viewer interest suffocates long before the Grand Guignol climax about settling an old score. (Graphic violence, extreme profanity,adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1997
- Rating: R
- Review: The evocatively titled THE KILLING JAR turns out to be a lame psychological chiller that overdoses on the foreshadowing of suspense formula conventions that aren't that compelling to begin with. Michael Sanford (Brett Cullen) is intent on revitalizing his… (more)