After Alice (1999)

vt Eye of the Killer

Germany, UK / 100 minutes / color with some bw / Promark, Videal, CPTC Dir: Paul Marcus Pr: Tina Stern, André Paquette, Tom Kinninmont Scr: Jeff Miller Cine: Brian Pearson Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Henry Czerny, Polly Walker, Gary Hudson, Ronn Sarosiak, Stephen Ouimette, Eve Crawford, Denis Akiyama, Lorén Petersen, Alexander Chapman, Colin Glazer.

Cop Mickey Hayden (Sutherland) has been boozing ever since his wife deserted him to take up with his boss, Lt. John Hatter (Hudson). One night he’s in a convenience store picking up his next bottle when a punk seizes it and runs. Mickey chases the thief into a deserted building and sustains a cracked head in a fall. He very soon discovers the trauma has endowed him with the power of psychometry: when touching an object (even a corpse) he can often have visions of relevant events in that object’s past. The first time he experiences this is when called to investigate the seemingly random murder of the punk he’d earlier chased.

After Alice - The punk's murder revisited in a vision.

The punk’s murder revisited in a vision.

He’s approached in a bar by Harvey (Czerny), who has this same ability and can identify it in Mickey. At first Mickey violently rejects Harvey and Harvey’s claims, but slowly he becomes convinced they’re genuine—especially after Harvey engineers his introduction to parapsychologist Dr. Vera Swann (Walker), currently investigating a haunted house.

It’s not just any old haunted house. Nearly a decade ago the city was terrified by a serial killer called The Jabberwocky, who left a playing card, the Queen of Hearts, with each of his victims. That and the fact that the killer in each instance stole something from the victim—something that went unmissed until the relatives received it through the mail a few days later—comprised The Jabberwocky’s m.o. In every other respect the killings were different from each other, both in the characteristics of the victims and the methods used. It was in this particular haunted house, Harvey has deduced, that The Jabberwocky’s first victim, a young woman called Alice Lurie (Petersen), died when thrown down the stairs.

After Alice - The Herald Mirror's first Jabberwocky story

The Herald Mirror‘s first Jabberwocky story.

The killing of the punk represents the start of a new phase of Jabberwocky killings, and Hatter assigns Mickey and his partner Ray Coombs (Sarosiak) to the case; Hatter’s own stated idée fixe is that the murderer, now as before, is one Gideon Wood (Ouimette), an understandably bitter lone wolf whom the PD hounded as a suspect but upon whom they could never actually pin a case. Hatter’s animosity toward Mickey clearly makes the detectives’ task more difficult, and intensifies when Hatter realizes that (a) Mickey thinks Gideon is and always was innocent, and (b) Mickey is exploring not just mundane but psychic routes to finding The Jabberwocky. One lead that seems particularly promising to him involves Margaret Ellison (Crawford), proprietor of the Herald Mirror, a newspaper whose circulation soared back when The Jabberwocky was originally active because of the stories Margaret’s brother Tom (Glazer) dug out about the case; in due course Tom became a Jabberwocky victim himself . . .

Which may be the fate of Mickey, too, if he’s not careful, as the new wave of killings continues and as he, Vera, Ray and Harvey come closer and closer to identifying the perp. In the end it’s a combination of his psychometric and orthodox detective skills that enables Mickey to reveal a stunning truth: that there isn’t and never has been a serial killer but instead a conspiracy to assign various unrelated homicides to a made-up boogeyman, The Jabberwocky.

After Alice - see caption 1

Mickey (Kiefer Sutherland) investigates the murder of a friend, the transvestite hooker Claudette (Alexander Chapman). Scrawled on the brickwork above is “XXY”. A clue left by the killer or just a production staffer’s little joke?

It’s this latter piece of inventiveness that gives After Alice its main interest; otherwise it’s a parapsychological thriller that, while neatly made—and, with its convolutions of plot, more neonoirish than most—isn’t especially original; think of EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978) as just one of the obvious precursors. References to Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-glass are playfully scattered amid the proceedings, although rarely with any plot significance; for example, in a throwaway line we discover a putative murder weapon was bought at a gun fair by someone using the fake name Charles Lutwidge. (Lewis Carroll’s real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Okay, so you knew that.) The ending is, while satisfactory in emotional terms as the bad guy gets a long overdue terminal comeuppance, pretty silly as a resolution of the plot.

Sutherland plays his usual self; Kenneth Branagh’s rendition of the eponymous detective in the much later BBC TV series Wallander (2008 onwards) might seem to echo Sutherland’s Mickey Hayden. There’s not much chemistry between any of the actors here, however, which means that the potential romance between Mickey and Vera fizzles out before reaching even damp-squib status. Czerny brings a certain slightly-larger-than-life stylishness to his character; Crawford offers a delectable portrayal of hypocritical faux-dignity; Akiyama does a good comic turn as the entirely unempathic forensics supremo Owen Gackstetter; while Walker, although as always more than competent, seems unusually uninvolved.


On After Alice [DVD] (2003)

2 thoughts on “After Alice (1999)

  1. I know THE EYES OF LAURA MARS very well John, and I am rather surprised that this one escaped me, especially with that 1999 release date. Your uncompromising assessment won’t make me run out to find it, but perhaps if the opportunity arises at some point.

    Great writing as ever!

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