A judge is woken in the middle of the night to attend a hearing for serial killer Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a man whose execution is to be held the following day. Meanwhile, out in the middle of nowhere, a desert motel is collecting a motley group of visitors sheltering from the thunderstorm raging outside that is flooding the desert highways. A distraught man (John C. McGinley) bursts through the door of the office carrying his wife in his arms - she has been seriously injured after being knocked over by chauffeur Edward (John Cusack), an ex-cop who is driving a pushy movie star (Rebecca De Mornay). As more people join them, stranded by the weather, there are more unpleasant surprises on their way...
What can you do with the slasher movie that hasn't been done about a million times before? Identity, scripted by Michael Cooney, comes up with a new twist on the genre that stays faithful to the basic ideas: assemble your victims in an isolated spot, and kill them off one by one, Ten Little Indians style, with the killer suffering an idiosyncratic motivation to wrap the whole story up with a twist. This one left some viewers baffled, but they obviously hadn't seen enough horror movies.
As the film is so plot driven, a host of reliable actors who have proven themselves in character parts are wisely hired to breathe life into the various roles. Amanda Peet is the prostitute who has unwittingly caused the accident that starts the film, Ray Liotta is the cop transporting a dangerous convict (Jake Busey) to prison, and Clea DuVall and William Lee Scott are the newlyweds who reluctantly become entangled in the night's danger. When the head of the movie actress is found in the tumble dryer, then they all realise that there is a killer among them - but who could it be?
Naturally, after the head is found, they don't do the sensible thing and all stay in the same room until the storm passes and they can escape (their mobile phones don't work either), but instead creep around the motel, making them easy pickings for the psycho. Yet as they do, strange things start happening - the convict escapes, but finds himself back at the motel despite running in the opposite direction; the keys to the ten rooms are each found in descending room number order on each body; and there is talk of the motel having been built over a burial ground.
Identity looks slick and moody, thanks to terrific photography by Phedon Papamichael, and is presented at a snappy enough pace to stop you from realising it doesn't make much sense. All the way through, scenes with the hearing interrupt the action, and you may catch on what's really happening before the revelation. Yes, the culprit is... that peculiar brand of psychology you only get in horror movies. As a Twilight Zone style chiller, it's very enjoyable, but it's nothing more than that - tricksy rather than deep. Music by Alan Silvestri.