No, not "Animorphs." That was a book series and television show about teens who could metamorphose into animals. This is a movie about a premise that metamorphoses into twaddle.

That premise is anamorphosis, a seriously old-school art technique in which an image reveals a second, hidden image or meaning when viewed at a distorted angle or through some device like a mirror. Classicists and this movie itself cite as a preeminent example painter Hans Holbein the Younger's 1533 oil The Ambassadors, in which an apparent reflective sword blade in the foreground is revealed at a specific angle as a memento mori skull.

Incorporating anamorphosis into a stylized serial killer's M.O. is cat-and-mouse clever in the manner of Se7en and other police procedurals about clue-dropping masterminds. Anamorph additionally mimics the Grand Guignol style of Italian gialli, those bloody noir mystery-thrillers popularized in the 1970s by the likes of Dario Argento and Mario Bava. But while no one ever said gialli were paragons of plot, this attempt at an American version—down to star Willem Dafoe's consciously bad, ’70s-style hairpiece—is so riddled with absurdity you have to wonder why the filmmakers set it in New York City and not some more suitably fabulist locale.

Dafoe plays Stan Aubray, an NYPD detective getting back in the swing of things after being traumatized five years earlier by the "Uncle Eddie" serial-killer case, in which a dock-walking prostitute died in his arms. Aubray became friends with the hooker's best bud, Sandy Strickland (Clea Duvall), whom he only sees when she's giving blood. Whatever. Newly promoted detective Carl Uffner (Scott Speedman) sorta is and sorta isn't Aubray's partner, and serves little purpose other than to badger Aubray, who tends not to answer reasonable, direct questions. The role calls for Dafoe to stare, be enigmatic and not say anything a lot.

There's some folderol about Aubray's love of antique furniture, for which he turns to a freelance dealer (Peter Stormare), and some scenes of Aubray teaching recruits in a classroom, sounding more like the art-history aficionados who wrote this movie than like an actual individual.

But mostly—and aside from repetitive scenes of driving or a pointlessly elongated scene of a police boat that simply pad the film to excruciating length—the plot bears no more resemblance to policing than Perry Mason does to lawyering. Aubray, at a fresh crime scene in which an old partner (Yul Vásquez) has been eviscerated, goes way beyond mere tampering with evidence by using a macabre, blood-soaked painting tool of the killer's in order to finish a portrait of himself—while a slowly gathering group of police just stand around and watch! Later, when a friend is in immediate mortal danger, Aubray races to the address, frantically speeding and honking his horn rather than, oh, calling it in for officers closer by.

At least there's a cool, grotesque bird sculpture here, created from a wildly dismembered victim. But that's only, like, se7en seconds of film.