Halfway through watching “El-Safah (The Serial Killer), by the time my mind, body and soul went completely numb, Hany Salama’s character opened a large window, and suddenly, a flood of eye-blinding sunlight engulfed the screen.
For a few seconds, I presumed that this was it; my time has finally come, God has decided to relieve me from this insufferable boredom. My cinematic life flashed before my eyes, with the happiest of moments – “Fanny & Alexander, “The Wizard of Oz, Jacques Demy – and the most wretched ones – “Alia El Tarab Bel Talata, “Katkout, Michael Bay.
I woke up a minute later, too jaded to brook another hour of this featureless film. But I ultimately prevailed. On my way home though, I couldn’t ignore the multitude of existential questions that refused to leave me be: Why am I here? Why movies like “The Serial Killer are made? How many more hours will I spend watching films like these? Is there any way to stop discoloring of shirts?
Compared to Mohamed Saad’s or Tamer “Furball Hosni’s films, “The Serial Killer isn’t as bad. It’s simply mediocre, too mediocre; a thriller with a formulaic plot, zero suspense and performances that induce snooze.
Unlike recent dire bombs “The Wedding and “Ibrahim El-Abyad, there’s absolutely nothing to savor in this film. It’s not as offensive as “Dokan Shehata (I wish it was); in fact, it’s not anything, just a piece of incredibly dull cinema.
The ominous signs were there from the start: Hany Salama, Nicole Saba and Khaled El-Sawy with a Lebanese accent and a fake ponytail. The three, along with director Saad Hindawy (“Love State, “Seventh Heaven ) joined forces to bring to the big screen the real story of Ahmed Helmy El-Messiri, the notorious serial killer who terrorized the Mohandiseen neighborhood in the early 90s.
The intriguing subject matter was adapted by El-Sawy, in his first script, and co-writer Mohamed Dardiry and turned into an average TV-movie devoid of depth, significance, visual embellishments or edginess.
The film kicks off with a fairly interesting start. A man knocks on the apartment door of an affluent family. He claims to be a cop, informing the family their house has been subjected to an attempted burglary while they were away. After a small chit-chat, the cop asks the head of the family to come with him to the police station for some legal procedures. On their way, the cop, out of the blue, shoots the man. He cleans up the car, goes back to the family’s apartment, shoots the man’s son and wife, leaves the apartment, and kills half the building’s residents on his way out.
Through a long series of flashbacks, Hindawy and his two scriptwriters chronicle in conventional chronological order the story of Murad (Salama), the young, rich hoodlum who would become one of the country’s most famous serial killers.
Born to a broken, well-to-do family, the young Murad finds in crime an outlet to unleash his dejection and anger over his neglecting mother (Sawsan Badr) – whom he’s seen in bed with her young lover – and his cruel, abusive father (Samy El-Adl).
His brutal experience at the juvenile delinquents house corrupts him further.
After several failed attempts to reform, he moves to Iraq with his aunt, the one person he holds real affection for, joins the Iraqi army, befriends Lebanese assassin Abou Ra’ad (El-Sawy), moves to Lebanon for a while and betrays the latter in a business operation.
He returns to Egypt, fails to reconcile with his father, becomes a small arms dealer, has an affair with a married woman (Saba), enters prison for illegal possession of weapons, gets out, marries his woman, struggles to make a decent living and eventually returns to crime.
If the story sounds episodic, that’s because it actually is. The film is mostly a series of events that hardly grow out of one another, leaving no room for speculation. (Spoiler alert) Murad encounters a host of characters, kills a bunch of them out of sheer pleasure and the need for money, gets arrested and is executed in the end. The question is: does anyone care?
Hindawy’s treatment gives no profound insight into the character’s psyche.
The worn-out dramatic blueprint he employs (a good-natured kid driven to crime by his dysfunctional family and the subsequent rejection by society) has been applied to death in dozens flicks before. Hindawy’s direction is too flat, too pedestrian and unimaginative to reflect the immense damage Murad has willingly perpetrated, while the depiction of the murders are too tame to shock or incite any reaction.
The sole interesting moment in the film takes place during another break-in when Murad explains what it’s like to kill a man. “You lose your humanity altogether, he says, “You become something else. You become above the law, above all beings.
Alas, this peculiar sensation is never seen nor does it materialize in the committed crimes or Salama’s nondescript face. Salama, an actor with limited capabilities, fails to capture his character’s deep-seated anguish and alienation. His face, body language and behavior are too smooth and polished for a complex character like Murad. Saba outdoes him eventually in another stiff and indistinct performance festooned with fountains of tears.
The best serial-killer films, from Fritz Lang’s “M to Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam and David Fincher’s “Zodiac, have sidestepped the conventions to explore a variety of themes such as obsession, fascism and the unexplained human violence. “El-Safah, doesn’t explore anything, and it’s too thin, too unremarkable to be a bonafide character study.
In the last 12 months, Egyptian cinema has released two truly exceptional films (“Tell Me a Story Scheherazade and “1-0 ) out of 50 (the ratio is much higher in Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood and all film industries that ends with “wood’). I’ve sat through most of them, wasting countless hours of my life that I’ll never get back.
So, dear Lord, if you’re reading, please spare me the torment of this cinematic inferno. I know I’ve sinned plentifully before, skipping church for the movies, poking fun at Michael Jackson’s fans and made bald jokes long before my hairline started receding. Whatever I did, please have a mercy on me and don’t let me sit into another worthless piece of cinema like this again.