The director, Elias Merhige, of the "Shadow of the Vampire" fame, is a master of ominous forebodings on screen. From the very beginning, the roadside scatterings, among which are remains of milk cartons with missing children's pictures on them, soaked with filthy muddy rain water, to the creaking swing warrying a lone little boy, to the gigantic cargo truck turning the corner and looming in the far background, dwarfing the two boys riding bicycles, there is an emphasized yet understated somber sinister quality in frame after frame.
And who would have thought that hand-scribbled numbers can be pregnant with such horrifying significance, as in the numerous little scraps of paper with numbers, scattered in layers at the bottom of the trunk? OR the densely written numbers on the drinking glass? Not since Aronsky's "Pi" have I found numbers so depressing.
The qualm of the Ben Kingsly character is the dichotomy of free association, mentally, and the total disassociation, emotionally. The former is the very basis is his investigative methodology, while latter is the relentless demand that makes his "work", and his very survival, possible. But this is one last poignant idea that makes the film tick. Once we get that, the film just declined into cliches after cliches.
Which is a real shame, for the despair of the heroes actually weakens the horror. The film cannot decide what should be the focus, which seems to be our perception of, and response to, the horror of evil. But in order to effectively convey the heroes' trauma in dealing with it everyday, we need to be exposed more to the evil itself; we need to be shown more of the kinds of people they are, rather than the few (nearly) faceless deadbeat white males, the usual suspects. A lot of technical excellence goes into what promises a lot but turns out to be a fairly small project.
Before I end this, I want to remind you of one nice little touch that is not only original but also serves the main theme better than Kingsly's best effort: when the police arrived to investigate the brutal murder of a traveling salesman after his dinner at a local diner, the waitress blurted out: "He is NOT a good tipper---(pause; common decency waking up; shocked at her own callousness)---is that a horrible thing to say?"