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Gifted filmmaker Atom Egoyan leads us down a chilling path of evil and redemption. 

Dark "Journey"

Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan creates richly complex character studies. His latest, "Felicia's Journey," takes us into the world of a serial killer who preys on lonely young girls. This deceptively simple storyline is merely the jumping-off point for Egoyan to explore a myriad of modern maladies as both killer and prey search for redemption as they struggle to deal with their pasts.

Though not equal to his first two films, the art-house classic "Exotica" and the near-masterpiece "The Sweet Hereafter," "Felicia's Journey" is an intriguing work that continues to display Egoyan's uncanny ability to capture the essence of emotionally damaged individuals. Despite the headline-grabbing presence of a serial killer, "Felicia's Journey" is pure Egoyan. There are no cheap clichés and no violence. For it is not the horrendous acts which intrigue Egoyan, but rather the man behind them.

By all outward appearances, the killer Hilditch (played by Bob Hoskins) is a harmless man, a catering manager by trade. Not unlike "Psycho's" Norman Bates, Hilditch had a strange relationship with his own mother. A nationally known host of a cooking show in the '50s, she was emotionally distant from him. Growing up fat and unloved, Hilditch still prepares lavish dishes at home, following his mother's directions from old videotapes of her show.

Interestingly, Hilditch also replays videos of his victims, their faces haunting him. When he meets Felicia (Elaine Cassidy), she's pregnant and on her own. Having left Ireland to search for the boy who fathered the child, she's desperate to do the right thing. But her father (Gerard McSorley) damns her, saying she's "carrying the enemy within you." Felicia believes her beloved Johnny has gone to Birmingham to find work; her father believes he's joined the British army. Lost, lonely and without a passport, she is hopelessly wandering the streets when Hilditch drives by in his strange old car and offers to help. Though her circumstances seem perfect for Hilditch, when he discovers she is carrying another life, he becomes confused. At times he tries to help her, even though deep inside he wants to keep her trapped in his house.

In past works, Egoyan has excelled at creating a believable microcosm in which his characters live, where every action ripples outward to affect even the most minor characters. That is not the case with "Felicia's Journey," and is precisely why the movie is not the equal of his other works. The fringe characters — Felicia's father and Johnny's mother, a religious worker who briefly shelters her — are oddly one-dimensional. The success of "Felicia's Journey" lies in Egoyan's ability to get superb performances from his leading actors.

As Hilditch, Hoskins gives one of his most understated and powerful performances. The scariest thing about Hoskins' Hilditch is how normal he appears. It is this mild-mannered and caring exterior he presents to the world that makes his true nature all the more evil. No matter how smooth or serene a surface he presents, we soon realize that he is about to implode. Newcomer Cassidy more than holds her own in his presence, displaying a weary disaffected maturity that contrasts with her trapped-in-the-headlights, small-town demeanor.

Capturing the terror and awe of a Grimm's fairy tale, "Felicia's Journey" is unsettling in a cumulative way. And even though the violence is all implied, the horror of what humans do to one another is not. Egoyan easily could have made Hilditch into a monster. By choosing to show us Hilditch as a sad, lonely man who does not realize what he's doing, "Felicia's Journey" is all the more disturbing.

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