The Girl in the Photographs introduces us to a twisted pair of serial killers named Tom and Gerry. Tom (Luke Baines) is thin and androgynous. Gerry (Corey Schmitt) is hairless and pot-bellied, preferring to go shirtless most of the time. During their most violent acts, Gerry watches Tom and lovingly pats and strokes him, but I don’t think either one is gay. They wear female crying clown masks as they abduct, murder and photograph young women in and around Spearfish, South Dakota.
I’m not entirely sure they’re the monsters in this story, though. I found the character of Peter Hemmings (Kal Penn), an arrogant fashion photographer from Los Angeles, to be more distasteful than Tom and Gerry. His ego is so big that when he learns someone is taking photos of dead women and leaving them for Colleen (Claudia Lee) to find, he claims to be the inspiration for the killings. It’s all about him since Spearfish happens to also be his hometown.
He and his crew load the van and head to South Dakota where he hopes to find fresh models to pose as dead people for his photographs. “Let’s steal his idea and make a lot of money, then get high.” Peter is a real jackass. As they pass the sign welcoming visitors to Spearfish, he notices the population, “10,494. I’ve had sex with more people than that.” He also doesn’t speak directly to the locals; instead, he orders his assistant, Chris (Kenny Wormald) to talk for him.
The Girl in the Photographs floats some interesting ideas; however, they never coalesce into a real point. First, Peter has a legitimate complaint that “everyone thinks they’re a photographer,” which he fears is making him obsolete. Then, when he learns that the pretty checkout girl from the market is the same person who has been finding the photographs of dead people, he wisely notes, “Somebody sees her differently. To them, she’s a star.”
So that the serial killer can’t have her, he decides to take Colleen to Los Angeles to make her a model. In a rare honest moment, Peter tells her, “I chose you because I haven’t had a fresh idea in a long, long time.” Colleen is eager to leave town, but is having trouble connecting with friends because they have been held captive in a cage in Tom and Gerry’s basement awaiting butcher. In the case of her ex-boyfriend, Ben (Toby Hemingway), Tom tells him, “You should have treated her better.”
Since the killers now have various mobile devices of the dead people, they communicate with Colleen and learn about a party at the house Peter and his crew are renting in Spearfish. It all leads to an inevitable faceoff after the party. If, up until now, you take The Girl in the Photographs as more of a mystery/thriller, the final act reminds you that it’s a true horror/slasher film. It’s extremely gory with prolonged scenes of bloody, attack.
Written by Robert Morast, Oz Perkins and Nick Simon, and directed by Simon, The Girl in the Photographs is technically sound. It’s effective at all the right moments; it’s suspenseful and scary. However, by the time it concludes, there should be more. What was the connection between Tom, Gerry and Colleen? In an epilogue, we learn there may have been no connection. This makes it all seem senseless. Could that be the point? Models and serial killers… yeah, sometimes there just is no explanation.