It’s not clear what’s more irritating about Anamorph: that it’s another shameless rip-off of Se7en or that its high-concept gobbledygook has almost no bearing on its mystery’s conclusion. As evidenced by his glossy-grim widescreen panoramas and serial killer-with-a-gimmick narrative, writer-director H.S. Miller clearly seems an adoring student of David Fincher. For a quick moment, such fawning admiration translates into a comfortable groove of bleak police procedural twists and turns, as detective Stan Aubray (Willem Dafoe) is tasked with looking into murders that appear to be copycat slayings modeled after the handiwork of a fiend named Uncle Eddy who was shot dead by Aubray and his partners five years earlier. Miller knows how to set his genre mechanisms in motion, and his early decision to let Aubray’s traumatic relationship to, and feelings about, the Uncle Eddy case slowly trickle out generates a modicum of curiosity.
Yet suspense is something foreign to Anamorph, whose protagonist is a familiar blend of detective clichés—he’s a scarred, solitary boozehound who’s also a detail-oriented obsessive compulsive—and whose plot soon strings together increasingly rickety, unconvincing developments. The killer crafts sophisticated paintings and sculptures of his victims, an only-in-the-movies signature that the film initially, tantalizingly couches in pictorial/cinematic terms. Any links between these homicides and the artistic process, however, prove flimsy at best, too enamored is Miller and Tom Phelan’s script with contrived peripheral figures—like Peter Stormare as Aubray’s antiques dealer/art historian buddy—and elaborate Grand Guignol crime scenes-via-gallery-installations.
Dafoe embodies Aubray as someone intensely trapped inside his own head (and underneath a ‘70s helmet haircut), a characteristic that eventually helps him deduce that the killer’s paintings are in a Renaissance-era anamorphosis style in which, as elucidated by Stormare’s deadly exposition, hidden images can be viewed by looking at the work from another angle. The film’s own idea about offering a different perspective on a familiar scenario, though, involves concocting intricate clues and external/internal issues for its protagonist and then having the case be solved via incidents and discoveries wholly unrelated to the central premise itself.