The notion of creators getting haunted or mentally oppressed by their creations was brilliantly explored in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. The legendary English poet William Blake, whom Eric Robert’s character, Detective DiBiasse, appropriately mentions in the movie, too was a victim of his own sensitive and vivid imagination and claimed to have witnessed visions of his creations throughout his lifetime. However, the mention of the visionary bard in director Ezio Messa’s “Alter Ego,” a psychological thriller that is less thrilling than it is hilarious, comes off as blasphemy. Except for Dylan Walsh and Eric Robert’s characters, who seem to be falling victim to bad project choices at the tail ends of their respective careers, the supporting characters come off more as caricatures. Adding to that atrocious screenplay and predictable plot, which make it a really tedious job to finish the movie in the first place, even on a barely one-hour runtime, the narrative follows a paranoid best-selling writer who anticipates that his character will end his life, and he believes some of his unintentional mistakes might be the reason for that.
Plot Synopsis: What happens In ‘Alter Ego’?
The movie begins with an unknown person contacting the emergency dispatchers, followed by the responder on the other end of the call asking about the nature of the emergency. The next scene shifts to the stately mansion of writer Alan Schaffer, and amidst some heated conversation in the background, a physical struggle seems to be happening inside the house. The scene once again changes to the present timeline, where a significant amount of police and FBI vehicles have surrounded the household of the writer, and close associates are huddling together to enter what is supposed to be a crime scene. Detective DiBiasse arrives at the scene, which is going to be the last case of his career, along with a rookie detective who has been assigned to his first.
The scene moves back to several hours earlier, and the entire narrative throughout the movie jumps through the past and present timelines. We are introduced to Alan Schaffer, a writer who made it big after his thriller “Icaro’s Blood” became a breakout success, was listed among the New York Times bestsellers, and an antagonist character of the book named Ivan Tanner, a calculative murderous psychopath, became extremely popular among critics and readers. This resulted in publishers urging for the continuation of the series, and the second book, “The Way of Evil,” which saw Tanner in a leading role, was a smash hit as well, once again ranking among the New York Times bestsellers. As Alan has finished the third entry in the trilogy titled “Alter Ego,” with which he has decided to conclude the saga of Ivan Tanner, and the deadline to submit the manuscript approaches, he is filled with a strange fear that his creation is going to end his life. It’s not just his suspicion, some of the recent incidents have made him consider such a possibility.
A day before handing over the manuscript to his publisher, Alan calls the emergency response service, and a security guard arrives at his home. Without sharing particulars about the situation, Alan asks the security personnel to stay with him, or else he might lose his life. Dumbfounded after hearing such a statement, the security asks him the reason for his saying so, and Alan hesitates to share. Thinking his statements were the ramblings of a senile person, the security prepares to leave, but Alan stops him, now mentally prepared to share his concerns.
After briefly discussing his profession and the details of the series that put him in the limelight, Alan shares his suspicion that Ivan Tanner is going to kill him, and he will be safe only after he hands the manuscript of “Alter Ego” to the publisher. Alan also shares that he has been receiving death threats, all signed by Ivan Tanner. Alan also remarks that he uses his pen name in the books, so there is basically no way for his readers to know him personally or know his address either. Not sure how to deal with the situation, the security personnel leaves and asks Alan to call him if he notices any suspicious activity. He also advises Alan to keep his alcoholic tendencies in check, as by now it has been clear that either in order to ease the fear or simply out of habit, Alan has become addicted to drinking.
As the guard leaves, Alan continues to drink and gets himself into a drunken stupor but suddenly wakes up after seeing foreboding visions of his death. The security guy has returned and has started accusing Alan of holding back some facts from him, which he came to know after looking up the name on the internet. We are informed that a person named Ivan Tanner was on the receiving end of persecution due to the notoriety of Alan’s fictional character of the same name. The real-life Ivan Tanner lost his family in an accident and was subjected to lynching by people on the suspicion that he was a murderer. The security guard almost condescends to Alan for enjoying the success the character brought him, while it spelled disaster for a person in real life. Alan admits that he knew all this but finds it hard to believe that he had any role to play, as naming the character was an arbitrary decision.
Their conversation continues as the security guy remarks that from that point, Ivans life only went downhill as he murdered the people who wronged him. Alan admits that the modus operandi of the person matched his fictional character, and the security guy remarks that, apparently, the FBI is also on the trail of this psychopathic murderer. Alan denies any correlation between these two cases and insists the personnel see that he lives out the day.
In the present timeline, the two detectives try to get an assessment of the situation and calm down the anxious crowd of close associates waiting outside Alan’s house. Alan’s agent tries to make his way into the house to get his hands on the manuscript of “Alter Ego” but is stopped in his tracks by Detective DiBiasse. Meanwhile, Alan’s fiancée remorsefully remarks to the rookie detective that she could have prevented something from happening if she had acted sooner.
Continuing the past narrative, the security personnel asks Alan the reason for his insistence on considering this particular day to be important, to which Alan answers by showing him postcards sent to him by Ivan Tanner exactly on the dates he committed the murders and the last of which he received early in the morning. As they are having this conversation, an intruder seems to be making rounds in the garden, which the security man goes to investigate. Alan hears the sound of a brief struggle in the garden, and moments later, the security guy returns and reveals himself to be none other than Ivan Tanner.
‘Alter Ego’ Ending Explained: What Happened To Alan Schaffer?
Ivan Tanner starts brutalizing Alan and also shows him that he killed the person in charge of his private security. Ivan takes pleasure in torturing him and goads him about how he is going to ruin Alan’s life just like Alan ruined his. In the meantime, Alan is contacted by his agent, who wants him to rethink abandoning the character that brought them a great fortune, and his fiancée, who asks him to take a break from the novel, which she thinks has consumed his entire being. Alan tries to distract Ivan first by offering money and later by provoking him by insulting his lesser intellect compared to the complex character of his writing. Ivan remains busy engaging in theatrics to make himself appear menacing, but Alan manages to lure him closer and hurt him grievously. However, as he prepares to flee with the only copy of the manuscript of “Alter Ego,” he sees Ivan missing from the scene. A curious Alan returns to the place where their scuffle ensued and gets ambushed by Ivan; during the struggle, they both fatally stab each other, and the scene changes to the present timeline. The news of Alan’s death gets broadcast, and it is revealed that everything regarding Ivan Tanner is happening inside Alan’s mind. The security footage shows a seemingly deranged Alan Schaffer killing his private security, and later detective DiBiasse sees that Alan has ended up killing himself.
Aside from the paranoia and the anxiety attacks Alan displayed throughout the movie, it was apparent that he was not a mentally stable person, to begin with. As the pressure of building on the legacy of the character that gave him fame and wealth came into direct conflict with the peace he craved in his personal life with his fiancée, and as he was struggling to keep his sanity intact, the barrier between reality and fiction started blurring for Alan. Adding to this the alcoholism and over absorption in the study of the psychopath he created himself, it was no surprise that Alan created an elaborate scenario in his mind and ended up failing to escape from it. Not just the scenario in his mind that we saw, even the details with the postcards were fabricated by Alan, and all of it was connected with the last book he wrote, “Alter Ego.” Ultimately, the source of Alan’s completion anxiety and stress turned out to be his nemesis, his alter ego Ivan Tanner, who indeed killed him in the end.