Here’s something different: a serial killer movie with no on-screen violence. In Felicia’s Journey, Bob Hoskins is Joseph Hildritch, a catering manager for a factory in England’s industrial Midlands. Hildritch is mild-mannered and soft spoken, but right from the start it’s clear that terrible things are roiling just beneath the calm surface. "Food must be served by caring hands, not machines," Hildritch tells a representative from an automated catering company, and there’s something both endearing and unsettling about his gentle demeanor (think Mr. Rogers with a working-class British accent). Even in his off-hours, Hildritch is obsessed with food preparation, meticulously following along with videotapes of a black-and-white French cooking program from the 50’s as he creates gargantuan feasts he cannot possibly eat by himself.
Leaving the factory one day, Hildritch encounters Felicia (Elaine Cassidy), who has fled her home in Ireland in search of her boyfriend Johnny. Johnny had left Ireland weeks earlier, ostensibly to take a job at a lawnmower factory in Birmingham. Felicia’s father, though, believes Johnny to be a member of the British Army and a traitor to the Republican cause. Hildritch is unable to be of much help at first, but in the course of several chance meetings, he gains the girl’s trust, eventually offering to give her a ride to a nearby town he thinks may be home to the lawnmower factory in question. As we learn, however, Felicia is not the first "lost girl" to be given a lift by Hildritch, nor will she be the first to glimpse the killer inside him.
Directed by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan (Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter), Felicia’s Journey unfolds at a deliberate pace, as though taking its cue from Hoskins’ lulling delivery. As is often the case with Egoyan, the film relies heavily on the elements of coincidence and delayed revelation. Information about the characters is doled out slowly, and much of the story is unveiled via flashback. The lush, emerald hills of Felicia’s past and the gritty smokestacks of her current surroundings are both given a loving visual treatment, with smooth, glacial camera pans the predominant motif. Hildritch’s flashbacks, which reveal the depths of his obsession with the French television cook, are rendered in lurid, oversaturated colors and approach the vividness of a dream.
Felicia’s Journey requires all the visual interest it can muster, because for the most part it’s dramatically inert. Egoyan’s jigsaw puzzle approach to narrative is much more suited to his original ensemble pieces, like Speaking Parts and Exotica. Here, as in The Sweet Hereafter, he’s working with material he didn’t originate (in this case, a novel by William Trevor). The relatively simple story and limited number of characters make for an often taxing two hours when combined with the director’s usual distanced viewpoint.
Hoskins finds the right balance of geniality and creepiness, but he’s playing an emotionally needy man whose outward expression is tightly controlled. And since Cassidy gives a generally colorless performance as Felicia, this leaves the audience locked out of any deep involvement with the two main characters. The backstory provided to help explain Hildritch’s evil deeds is shallow and trite, and we never get the sense that Felicia is truly in danger, even after Hildritch’s monstrous past is revealed.
Egoyan saves his largest missteps for the end (which apparently differs from that of the book). The subdued mood he has sustained gives way to inscrutable hysteria as a Jamaican church lady pays an unexpected house call on Hildritch, just as he is preparing to dispatch Felicia to the next world. Accompanied by an intrusive musical score better suited to a Bugs Bunny cartoon, the ensuing silliness emphatically breaks what was already a very tentative spell. It’s a rare case of too much too late, and it brings this journey to a most unsatisfying conclusion.
……………………………………..- Scott Von Doviak