The Craigslist Killer (2011)

JANUARY 3, 2011


The other day I saw the hilarious headline “Billy Baldwin Hunts Craiglist Killer” and almost thought it was legit. I mean, Stephen has become a preacher of sorts, and Alec and Daniel have both gone into junk food advocacy, so it’s not too hard to think Billy has turned into some sort of crime fighter (a la Steven Seagal). But alas, it was just an interview fluff piece about his role in The Craigslist Killer, a Lifetime Original about a ‘killer’ who I had never heard of until then. And then I saw it was a trending topic on Twitter, so I figured it was worth a watch.

Well, that’s what I get for being ignorant. If I knew anything about the real case of one Philip Markoff, I probably would have known/guessed that it wasn’t exactly an HMAD-appropriate movie (I blame my twitter followers for voting it over Twins Of Evil!). Sure, it’s a thriller and such, but it’s a LIFETIME thriller, which means it’s not very thrilling, and eventually is no different than the scores of “A woman wronged” movies that they air on a daily basis.

Plus, The Craigslist Robber would be a more appropriate moniker – there was never a stronger example of “You’re known by the worst thing you did” than this guy. He robbed three women, and one went bad and the girl ended up dead. As depicted in the film (and in the documentary that aired after it), he never intended to kill anyone, making him a rather un-scary villain. And the movie stays remarkably close to the facts; for the most part, nothing seems embellished for the sake of making a more exciting movie – they don’t even have a scene where his fiancé stumbles on his computer, with far too many Craigslist “erotic service” links in the history than could be considered natural, only for him to catch her in the act (DUN DUN DUNNNN! – cut to commercial). They do suggest he has robbed other women (or, if you're ignorant, killed them - the first time we see him "in action" he walks into a hotel room all suspicious like, but this girl is never mentioned again).

No, instead they overload the whole “romance” angle; with his bride to be (Agnes Bruckner) telling him how happy she is and planning their wedding and such. One of the film’s best scenes cuts between her trying on dresses and cake samples with him wandering around Home Depot picking out duct tape and zip ties – the movie definitely could have used more of that sort of thing, and less of, say, her failing attempts to get into the same med school as him. Or pretty much any scene with her parents. I mean, no disrespect to the victims and involved parties, but this story just isn’t particularly suited to a movie, even a Lifetime original, so by sticking to the facts they do themselves a disservice.

For example, the whole “Craigslist” angle is incredibly minor – he used it to find girls to hook up with, but really, how is that any more interesting than a dude at the bar? It would be one thing if he was using it to find victims to kill by posing as a guy selling his old records or some shit, but the website makes about 12 seconds’ worth of an appearance in this movie, and no one even mentions it outside of a few news reports at the end. Some hook. Hell, he's not even the first one to get that title; there was another guy named Michael John Anderson who posed as a nanny and killed a CL responder in 2007. Hilariously, the film ends with a text caption letting us know that Craigslist "finally" shut down their erotic services section in 2010. "Finally"? Seems to me that pretty much any section of Craigslist could lead to tragedy - a stranger comes into your home (or you into theirs) no matter what the circumstances are. Hell, I'd even argue that at least with the erotic services section, folks should already be being a bit more cautious than they would for say, the guy coming over to buy their old couch.

Nothing is as inane as the film’s final scene though, in which Markoff slits his wrists in prison and writes out a message to his fiancé in his own blood, intercut with scenes of her crying and such, while a James Blunt-y ballad plays on the soundtrack. Um... HE’S A MURDERER! I don’t feel bad for him, and I barely feel bad for her, who refused to believe he was doing these things even when confronted with an overwhelming amount of evidence. Either way, I certainly don’t think the movie should end like it’s some sort of giant tragedy for both of them. Yeah, OK, perhaps the guy really did love her and was crushed that they weren’t going to be married – but he’s still a goddamn thief and murderer. Just because he had a cute pet name for her doesn’t make everything else he did OK.

As for Baldwin, well, he’s barely in the movie, and his awful Boston accent distracted me to the point of not even being able to recall anything he said (apart from when he referred to a Boston highway as "'The' 95" - Boston folk don't say "The" before a highway number, we say "Route"). Seriously, he sounded like Alec’s Jack Donaghy character making fun of Boston accents. He does have one funny line though, concerning the killer’s “disguise” (a red sox hat) – “You want me to look for some blonde jerk with a Red Sox hat in Boston? Yeah, we should have this wrapped up by the morning.” Speaking of the rather poor depiction of Boston, what the hell is up with Bruckner’s line about Boston having the most corrupt police force in the country? I hope a State Troopah busts one of her taillights next time she’s in town (which she apparently wasn’t for this movie – I think it was shot in Los Angeles, as I’m pretty sure their hospital was the one from Scrubs).

One thing I liked about the movie was its score, which sounded like Explosions in the Sky’s work. Not the worst band to rip off. I also enjoyed the one shot of Rt. 93 that the film offered – probably stock footage, but hey, reminded me of home. Also, Armageddon’s Judith Hoag (she was the ex of Will Patton’s character) popped up as the killer’s absentee mother, and I just spent the next few minutes pretending his character was indeed the little kid, who now hated his mom for years of telling him that his dad was just some salesman. With a movie this dull, you gotta improvise!

The piece that aired after the movie was much better (and oddly more suspenseful), because it stripped away all the lovey dovey shit and focused on his three (known) crimes and the police work involved with catching him. Standard "America's Most Wanted" stuff, but it told the story in half the time and without the power ballads. Again though, it proves that the movie stuck pretty close to the facts, working in a lot of the details about Markoff (though, given that all of this just happened in 2009 and 2010, they probably didn't have time to be too creative). They did change "hooker" in real life into "masseuse" for the movie, because I guess it's all the same thing to the 57 year old women who watch this stuff non-ironically. The only major difference was that the real Markoff was introverted and awkward (and huge), whereas the guy in the movie is an average sized, personable type. I would argue that depicting him as he really was would be more interesting, but alas, I am not the target demo for Lifetime.

What say you?

P.S. There was no trailer so I put in the only related clip I could find that didn't have an advertisement before it. Remember when Youtube didn't suck? That was fun.


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  3. fun fact: matt was in the same jail as TCLK. his suicide prevented the mailing of a letter to me by three days!


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