College student Holly Teller (Elisabeth Harnois) is drawn to the mysterious small town of Riddle, Pennsylvania in search of her missing brother. Against the will of the local Sheriff (Val Kilmer) and town elder (William Sadler), she begins to unravel a mystery connected to an abandoned psychiatric hospital on the edge of town, uncovering a terrifying past the town in determined to keep hidden
It is always a shame when a film doesn’t quite live up to it’s promise. With Riddle there are the seeds of a good thriller but unfortunately they are buried so deep that in the end it just doesn’t quite deliver.
The main story revolves around girl-next-door Holly Teller (Elisabeth Harnois) who acts as the perfect big sister to her socially awkward brother Nathan (Ryan Malgarini). When Nathan is taken for a joyride by local bad boys Matt (Bryan Lillis) and Cameron (Ben Bledsoe) he mysteriously disappears.
Three years later and Holly comes back from college to help out at the town’s farmers market when she thinks she sees Nathan being driven off in a pick up truck. While trying to follow the car she ends up breaking down in the next town Riddle, a place harbouring a dark secret. Despite the obstructive Sheriff (Val Kilmer) Holly must now piece together this mystery to discover if Nathan is really still alive.
As I said Riddle has a decent premise at it’s heart. Writing and directing team John O. Hartman and Nicholas Mross have created an uneasy atmosphere in the film using the scenery and music effectively in a way that reminded me of Twin Peaks in how it unsettles the audience. The problem is that this feeling just doesn’t last. The plot meanders along at a ridiculously slow pace and the script delivers nothing of note leading the characters reluctantly towards a twist that everyone will have seen coming. The cast do fine with what they have but deliver nothing you will remember five minutes after the film is finished and Val Kilmer just seems to be acting from memory and has so few lines it is almost a cameo appearance (Note: this has become a classic Kilmer routine in several films that offer him up on the cover only to hire him for a “day-rate” to boost the film’s sales)
The other disappointing thing from my point of view is that the film-makers almost seemed to give up on the story themselves. Riddle for the most part is a dark thriller centered around the disappearance of a young boy and a mysterious, almost abandoned town with a secret, but the final act descends into slasher movie territory and doesn’t deliver this with enough of a visceral hit to make it interesting. It felt like a suitable ending could not be agreed upon so a more formulaic conclusion was used.
Ultimately Riddle is somewhat dull and uninspiring. A good opening is quickly let down by a distinct lack of plot and substance and unfortunately slips into something disappointing and instantly forgettable. You have to wonder where the $7,000,000 went that this film is reported to have budgeted? The response on “Riddle” seems to range for m extremely poor to “loved it!”. My guess is that Marketing has been seeding the pot hoping to gain a few more sales (or rentals). Kilmer really need to up his game and get back to doing the kind of acting her was known for. Let’s see more “Doors” and less 1-offs. Oh, cool cover art by the way……