Grief/dark tourism, or thanatourism for those who like the extra scrabble options, is described by Wikipedia as “travel to sites associated with death and tragedy”. Places like Culloden, Ground Zero, and the London Dungeon are examples of the more common side of this, but in Dark Tourist Jim (Michael Cudlitz of Southland) prefers to spend his holidays visiting locations involved in the lives of serial killers. We follow Jim as he visits sites important to New Orleans mass murderer Carl Marznap, and the movie pulls no punches in its view into his mind and inner conflict.
Unblinking in its character focus and bolstered by an intense and believable performance by Cudlitz, it’s a gripping and disturbing piece of work. That Frank John Hughes only has one other writing credit (2011’s Leave, which had story cowritten by Rick Gomez) is testament to a clear talent on the page as well as onscreen – he is more recognised as an actor in the likes of 24 and Bad Boys.
The end result is chilling, a bit grimy and ultimately saddening; Jim may not be ultimately sympathetic but the view into his life shows the experiences and challenges that have led him to the path he has taken. Unfortunately, these are the very aspects that prove limiting as the film’s nature means you won’t want to make a return visit into Jim’s head anytime soon.
Like many visits to the sites involved in grief tourism, watching Dark Tourist is an experience that is appreciable rather than enjoyable. It’s certainly worth viewing once, but it’s unlikely to go on a most-frequently-watched list. Now, I think I need a shower… ***1/2