If I asked most people to name a dark mystery thriller directed by a guy who’s mostly worked in music videos that featured a killer who committed gruesome murders with religious overtones, they probably wouldn’t answer Horsemen. But here we are, fourteen years after the massive success that was Se7en, with a movie that replicates practically all the circumstances, but features none of the depth. It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to see Michael Bay’s name in the credits.
Aidan Breslin (Dennis Quaid) is a police detective. Years ago, his wife died of cancer, and since then he’s thrown himself into his work, at the cost of his relationship with his two sons. He gets called in for a murder that appears ritualistic in nature. He soon deduces that the killers have based themselves on the four horsemen of the apocalypse, each taking a unique role in the death of the victims. Things take a strange twist when one of the killers confesses to Breslin, taunting him at every turn, causing him to suspect that there may be a connection between him and these brutal murders.
The art of the mystery has mostly been lost in Hollywood as technology and hard science has taken the place of human intuition as the prime mover for solving crimes. It’s a problem that’s evident in this film, as it rattles off forensic technobabble in place of procedural elements in solving its central mystery. It’s unable to lay out a compelling case, the answers obvious to everyone by the end of the first act. By the time the movie actually reaches its perfunctory “shocking” twist, the movie has spent so much time spinning its wheels that it renders all of its mystery solving elements useless. The movie’s one potential bright spot is in exploring the troubled family life of the main character, but even that seems a little too forced, every one of those scenes following the exact same rhythm, at every turn driving down the point that Breslin has not been a good father. The filmmaking is pretty uninspired, the production taking its cue from the recent spate of torture porn horror films, featuring the same propensity for portraying unnecessary violence held together by cuts and flashes of spastic editing. Director Jonas Åkerlund’s music video sensibilities add speed to the film at the cost of coherence.
Dennis Quaid’s is an affable everyman, which makes him a bad fit for this role. Messy hair and crumpled clothes aren’t quite enough to transform the actor into the damaged, neglectful father that his character’s supposed to be. Quaid also seems to struggle with the technical terms his character is made to say, spitting them out unconvincingly. Taiwanese actress Zhang Ziyi is also in the film. Even in her native language, Zhang was always a bit of a limited actress. In English, she’s practically invisible.
Horsemen desperately wants to be Se7en, the edgy biblically themed thriller that properly launched the filmmaking career of another music video director, David Fincher. But while the movie recreates the trappings of the earlier film, the same talent just isn’t there. The movie doesn’t have the same thematic depth, or the same interest in playing out its procedural elements. It has all the flash and violence of the movie that preceded it fourteen years ago, but almost none of what made it any good.