With all the kidnapping and child custody battles collecting on primetime’s doorstep this season, “Precious Victims” carries the baby suspense genre a curious foot further: the double-baby caper.
A vaguely disturbed mother (Park Overall) reports the unthinkable: On two separate occasions, newborn daughters are snatched from her home.
When their skeletal bodies are shortly unearthed in the woods near the parents’ uncommonly tidy house, authorities (led by an obsessed Frederic Forrest) cast a skeptical eye on both mom and her equally strange husband (Robby Benson).
The movie is framed by the young mother’s courtroom murder trial (from where this true-life tale is told in flashbacks) as a cocky prosecuting attorney (Richard Thomas) cynically tears apart the mother’s defense. Director Peter Levin, through smash-closeups of Thomas’ prosecutor addressing the unseen jury, creates a dreamlike narrative mood that lures the viewer into the story.
Solid production values, especially Paul Maibaum’s lensing and telling performances by Overall, Forrest and Thomas, initially compel attention. But interest starts to buckle under a deadly sameness of mood and weird, off-putting character development that is never explained.
Deborah Dalton’s script, based on a book by Charles Bosworth and Don W. Weber (the attorney who prosecuted the Illinois case in the late ’80s), is structurally inventive but fails to create sympathetic characters outside of Forrest’s nominally empathetic detective. Overall’s semicatatonic mom never reaches emotional catharsis, Benson’s father is almost mannered in his brooding isolation, and nosy neighbor Eileen Brennan is almost as unsettling as the married protagonists.
The result: A curiously unfulfilling mystery leading to a dry, unsatisfying conclusion.