"She knew a trick. She knew how to turn her life into a movie and watch it." So reads straight-A student Aubrey Fleming from a homework essay at the start of "I Know Who Killed Me." Since Aubrey is played by Lindsay Lohan, whose personal life is devolving as part of the latest tawdry, hand-wringing celebudrama, the line resonates right off the screen and into our laps.
Maybe Lohan does see her life as a movie -- who knows? who really cares? -- but she has to be glad this movie isn't her life. "I Know Who Killed Me" is an intensely unpleasant killer-thriller mystery that has nevertheless been directed with low-budget craft by Chris Sivertson. Sivertson's 2005 feature "The Lost" wowed moviegoers on the gore festival circuit but has yet to be released. On the basis of his new film, he's a budding Brian De Palma with even less restraint. Oh joy.
The movie overlays a supernatural mystery on top of the by-now-standard torture-porn trimmings. An unknown sicko is kidnapping the teenage girls of New Salem and lopping off their limbs in stages. Aubrey is the latest to disappear, but then she's unexpectedly found two weeks later in the woods, missing a hand and a leg.
One problem: She now claims she's not Aubrey but a hard-bitten teen stripper named Dakota Moss (it sounds like a color you'd paint a nursery). This shocks Aubrey's suburban parents (Neal McDonough and Julia Ormond), although her boyfriend (Brian Geraghty) is delighted that Aubrey is now putting out. It also means we get to see Lohan pole-dance lewdly and have wild amputee sex while keeping just enough clothes on to cover her career. Do you think the girl wants to shock us?
Things get stranger and ickier from there. "I Know Who Killed Me" doesn't stint from rubbing an audience's face in severed fingers and blistered skin, and while Sivertson's hardly a subtle director (red filters for Dakota, blue for Aubrey; got it) he has a sharp eye and a knack for nasty atmosphere. Unlike such bland screamers as the recent "Captivity," this movie gets you to feel the characters' pain and dread in the pit of your stomach. Take that as recommendation or warning.
The twist is fairly obvious, as is the identity of the killer, as is the hoarse-voiced, wide-eyed performance Lohan now gives as a matter of course. She's barely convincing as one person, let alone two, and her flat line readings fall on our ears like a broken promise. There's an interesting idea buried in this movie -- that every young woman is both good girl and bad, virgin and whore -- and that paradox is one the star herself may be wrestling with on some level.
Lohan never dramatizes it, though -- never shows she's giving much thought to her performance at all -- and "I Know Who Killed Me" slides back into the genre murk from which it emerged. Sivertson may walk away from this ritual humiliation with a future, but for his star the film's title is beginning to sound like prophecy.