I didn’t actually set out to be biased against Fingerprints, which in and of itself is a fairly inoffensive movie. Regardless, it put itself four feet down and two to dig in the first ten minutes by:
- earworming me with that goddamned “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” song that used to send me into a frothing rage even as a child; and
- starting out at a train depot intersection that looked so weirdly like the train depot intersection in the hamlet my mother lived in that it made me flail in small-town-related PTSD and watch the movie through my fingers.
Fingerprints can’t quite decide if it wants to be a ghost story or a slasher movie, so it gives a game try at both. Thirty years or so ago, there was an unfortunate incident with a train and a school bus. The train depot has been abandoned since, more or less, but there’s an urban legend that if you stop on the tracks and put your car in neutral, Ghost Children will show up and push it across the tracks. (You will get very tired of this urban legend. Also, eventually it will expand to include ghostly fingerprints on the bumper, because some hapless scriptwriter realized at the eleventh hour that gradual inclines are not scary.)
Final Girl Melanie (Leah Pipes), fresh out of rehab after her boyfriend’s snort-related death, arrives in town to join up with her whackjob mother, her embarrassingly whipped father, and Final Sister Crystal (Kristin Cavallari), and promptly starts seeing Creepy Dead Little Girls. Just as promptly, people start getting murdered by a mysterious figure wearing a train conductor’s outfit and a black head bag they can’t possibly see out of. Mostly we’re pretty glad to see the victims go. However, the dead kids pretty clearly want something, and it’s up to Final Girl to figure out what it is.
So does it succeed either as a ghost story or a slasher movie? Well…
As a slasher movie, no, not so much. The body count is low, the deaths aren’t scary or inventive, and the tie-in with the looming demolition of the train station is iffy. The killer is revealed through the Scooby Doo Process of Elimination: cross off Final Girl, anyone dead, and the Useless Cops, and the killer is just about the only other person in the movie with lines. (Speaking of Scooby Doo, never has a movie so invited the tagline “I’d have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for you kids!”)
As a ghost story, it works a little better, though only on the sheer technical level of some effective blood-on-the-mirror moments. The storyline is riddled with the sort of plot holes that will result in you helplessly going “Okay, but – seriously? Seriously?” at the screen while whoever you’re watching it with tries to get you to let it go and have some more popcorn. The big twist involves a cover-up that makes no sense, accomplishes nothing, and involves the entire town against all logic and the laws of probability; assumes that people would rather lynch a guy on his porch than find their missing kids even when they know to within about a block’s radius where those kids are; assumes further that in thirty years no bereaved parent has gone in there and torn the train depot apart looking for bones to put in hallowed ground; and, adding insult to injury, involves the shoddiest fake gravestones ever to grace celluloid. The only conclusion I can draw from the big twist is that the entire town is actually composed of alien pod people.
I can forgive a lot for the old ghost-in-the-mirror trope. Maybe not this much, but a lot.
So what’s the verdict? I give Fingerprints two out of five ghostly smudges, mostly because anything that involves ghosts writing on mirrors will probably get a higher rating from me than it deserves. The movie is incoherent, the acting lackluster, and the special effects occasionally cringeworthy, but it could be worse.
One day, Lou Diamond Philips will be in a good movie again. Today just is not that day.