Living Lifetime: The Craigslist Killer

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Arts & Film, TV.


Let me begin by saying one thing: Everything below is a reflection of the characters, not the real people involved. So don’t give me hate mail about how Megan was a victim; this Megan seems more like a willful naif who just wants to get married and bear children (as so many Lifetime heroines do). That being said, let’s dig into this quickly turned around movie, based on the 2009 real life case. Starring Jake McDorman as Philip Markoff and Agnes Buckner as his fiancée Megan, this is The Craigslist Killer. Or, as Lifetime would have it, the //craigslist.killer.

And there he is! Philip Markoff, the soon-to-be (alleged) Craigslist killer! “See you in genetics?” a random girl asks as he saunters across campus, before another guy asks for help with his cadaver. This is both exposition (they’re in medical school!) and foreshadowing (Philip will need help with his own dead bodies soon).

In class, Philip makes “a bit of a leap” in response to his professor’s question, but he’s wrong. “Things are not always what they appear,” his professor says, before adding that he only tortures Philip to push him to be better than he is. There is then some serious flirting between Philip and a blond nurse. “He could not get cuter if he was holding a teddy bear and a puppy,” the blond’s friend says.

Outside, Philip confronts the blond during her studying, giving her tips. She has a test tomorrow, but he thinks she should be cutting loose, airing out her brain. Life is too easy for him. That’s why he’ll become a killer. He tries to drag her off someplace, but she’s not that kind of girl. Not like those Craigslist whores. So he goes through an adorably abbreviated yet specific history of his life, in keeping with the usual Lifetime TV movie charming man speech.

At a casino, Philip and Megan engage in some expositional conversations, while their outfits announce that they’re poor students because they spend all of their money on clothes. The rush of alcohol will be good for her, he says. It releases endorphins! Shouldn’t she know that, since she’s studying to be a med student? Of course, he is top of his class in his second year. Not that he’s bragging.

Immediately after they share their first kiss, the scene cuts to them moving in together six months later. Their moving van service is called “Moving Up” and they certainly are. This is a crazy nice apartment, which her parents don’t know about because she still hasn’t told them about Philip. So they’re clearly a close family. All moved in, and she wants to celebrate and study, but he has a study group he has to go to. The scene turns quiet as he puts a baseball cap on. Uh-oh! Only serial killers and terrorists get ominous underscoring when they wear a baseball cap! Cut to them in a horse-drawn carriage ride in a park at night, where he pops the question. She’s hemming and hawing because he hasn’t graduated or met her parents, but he steamrolls over her objections, and says they should go to New Jersey for her parents’ blessing that night.

At Megan’s family manse, Megan’s mother is the mean girl from Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion; her father is That Guy from Those Shows. Philip is being super awkward over lunch, with swelling music overwhelming the conversation. He has the urge to murder! He also has the urge to play golf with Megan’s father.

Over their game, Philip brings up his desire to marry Megan, charmingly summing up all of her father’s objections. “With me, what you see is pretty much what you get,” he says. Cut it with the heavy-handed irony, writers! But they’re not done, because then they have Megan’s father say, “You sound like the American dream!”

Her mother is also trying to get Megan to slow down. But he’s too amazing for her to take things slow, especially after the men folk return and her father is in such a good mood. This trip was a roaring success!

At night, while Megan sleeps, Philip sneaks out of bed to log on to the Erotic Services section of Craigslist, sipping red wine like a lonely cat lady. He’s momentarily distracted by a framed photo of himself with Megan, but he presses on. Suddenly, he’s wearing his baseball cap and standing in the doorway of a hotel room. “That was fast,” the girl in the doorway says. “I just couldn’t wait to meet you,” he smarms.

Without showing what happens behind closed doors, we cut to Megan and Philip posing for their engagement photos. “You’re a beautiful couple,” the photographer says, twice. We get it! They’re young, beautiful and in love. How could this go wrong?

Megan is saying that it’s strange she still hasn’t met his family, but I don’t think so. Why would that be weird? Just because you’re engaged to a man and have never met his parents doesn’t mean that he’s hiding anything. At the engagement party, Megan’s brothers are giving Philip brotherly shit. But lurking in a doorway is a dowdy brunette. Bet she’s Philip’s mother! She’s thrilled to see him again; Megan is thrilled to finally meet her; Philip is non-plussed. Well, he’s non-plussed until things start getting hazy. Is all this to signify that he’s mentally ill?

Overwrought from the fam, that night Philip shoots and uploads some shirtless pictures for his online profile in the bathroom mirror. We see the flash briefly illuminating the crack beneath the bathroom door while his fiancée sleeps. What flash is that bright? And why wouldn’t you just keep the bathroom lights on? Isn’t it creepier if your fiancée wakes up and finds you in the bathroom in the dark?

Too much wedding talk sends Philip into hair-tugging frenzies. He’s at the casino again, downing booze and tossing money onto the table. In a parking lot, he meets up with his classmate Janet, who tells us that he’s skipped a test. He then tries to drunkenly rape her. He’s pretty chipper about it, until Janet brings up Megan. Then he’s not the friendly, American dream boy we’ve come to know.

Trying on wedding gowns, Megan’s mother and friend are tipsy bitches. How did Lifetime manage to work a wedding gown montage into a movie about a killer? This is impressive synergy. On the other side of town, Philip is buying disposable phones, duct tape and FlexiCuffs. Aw, they’re both getting ready for their dream lives! Checking his phone prompts Philip to add more duct tape to his cart. As he’s checking out, the cashier remarks, “Looks like a very interesting project. You can put my number in any of these phones.” Who says that to a man buying Flexi Cuffs, disposable phones and a lifetime supply of duct tape? Women who moonlight as Craigslist masseuses, I guess. Philip then goes on to buy a gun with a fake ID.

Still primping during her day of wedding preparations in Jersey, Megan is calling Philip over and over again because the ATM says their account is overdrawn. She’s concerned, but her bestie thinks she just needs to calm down and trust Philip—who is in a hotel elevator wearing his baseball cap. He takes time out while walking down the hallway to punch the air and call Megan to reassure her about their money situation. “I want us to tell each other everything,” he says, as he lies about a check being late. Willing to believe whatever she wants, Megan cheers when her friend pops open a bottle of champagne. Too soon, as it turns out, because Megan immediately finds out she didn’t get into med school. And don’t try to call Philip, either, because he has a hooker to entertain. One who is remarkably unfrightened by him pulling out duct tape and Flexi Cuffs, but his gun convinces her that he’s serious.

He ties her up, then puts his gloves on. Wrong order! Scanning through her wallet, he calls her by her real name and then says he knows where she lives, so she’d better do what he says. She gives him her PIN number (4321), then he duct tapes her mouth shut. “Before I leave, I’m going to take a little souvenir,” he says, before cutting her panties off with a knife.

At the elevators, Philip holds open a door for an older woman laden with bags. “Such a gentleman,” she says, hitting us over the head with a hammer.

William Baldwin alert! He’s questioning the hooker, who says that Philip deleted the messages he sent to her. He acts as if it’s insane to invite strangers from Craigslist up to one’s hotel room. “I hope you nail his preppy ass,” she snarls, as Baldwin insinuates that she’s a hooker. But when she says that Philip liked humiliating her, Baldwin is moved to seriousness.

At home, Philip is hiding the panties in a sock under his bed. Yeah, because Megan will never change the sheets. Megan returns earlier than expected, distraught over not getting into the same school as Philip. I hope she isn’t ruining his Craigslist plans. Also, aren’t there other med schools in Boston?

Back in Jersey, Megan finds out that she’s gotten into college in St. Kitts. Congratulations? But Megan says that if she can’t go to medical school with Philip, she’ll just wait. Be a nurse, Megan. That’s for girls.

In the apartment, Philip is hollowing out a book in which to hide his gun, like Claudia used to do for snack food in The Babysitters Club. He’s interrupted by Megan, calling to ask what he thinks about a beach wedding. He begs off by saying that he was in the middle of a nap. I’m the same way, Philip: Once I get started on a project, I just want to see it through. And boy, is he thrilled at how perfectly that gun fits in his book.

Shortly after, he’s at another hotel room, but sans baseball cap. In her room, the camera gets stuttery. This hooker is doing grad work in drug and alcohol counseling in New York, and when Philip pulls a gun on her, she fights back. Too hard, apparently, because he has to shoot her. How did no one hear that?

At home, Philip is staring and flexing at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, including the giant scratch that last hooker left on his neck. When Megan sees it, he lies and says a patient freaked out and did it.

The cops think they have a break thanks to the skin under the hooker’s nails and a possible IP address. Baldwin is still mystified by why women would invite strangers to their hotel room, then comforts the hooker’s mother. “Who would do this?” she asks plaintively. the//craigslist.killer, that’s who.

Ooh! Matt Lauer is talking about the Boston hotel killer on The Today Show, which Philip and Megan are watching until Megan hits mute to take a call from her mother. She’s also watching The Today Show, and she’s weirdly worried that Megan and Philip might be in a hotel. Why would she think that when they have an apartment?

As the detectives profile the killer, all of the characteristics of the usual serial killer are refuted by shots of Philip. Sexual problems? See Philip fuck Megan. Friendless? See Philip laugh and chat with his fellow students!

Megan is interrupted from multitasking between a magazine and the local news by the apartment’s super. Whatever he says to her prompts her to call Philip, who’s back at Foxwoods and wearing that baseball cap. He’s just asking to get caught now. He doesn’t answer, of course, so she leaves him three messages that he promptly deletes. He’s on his way to another hotel! We see the hooker promise her boyfriend/pimp to text him when her John arrives.

Philip doesn’t waste much time after he arrives to pull his gun and force her onto the floor. When he’s distracted by her ringing phone, she bites him. He knocks her out with the gun, then tussles with her on-hand boyfriend, who gets pistol whipped, too. Maybe Philip will retire after this?

Freshly bruised and panicky, Philip walks in his door just in time to hear from the news that the Boston killer has targeted Rhode Island. He turns it off, and Megan pokes her head out of the covers to confront him about not paying the rent for three months. He turns this around on her, acting as if he’s so busy with medical school that he can’t be the perfect guy who pays his rent on time. Having put her in her place, Philip then magnanimously says he’ll take care of the rent the next morning.

Baldwin is still on the case, though! This craigslist guy is making him freak out about his daughter, though there’s no evidence that she’s a hooker. He passes out flyers with the surveillance photos, which look exactly like Philip. Then the tech wizards discover Philip on Facebook, having traced him through some web info they discovered at some point. They’re gonna take their time with this one, play it right.

Philips is sweating as the news announces the search for the killer is intensifying. Megan doesn’t think that’s weird, and switches the channel while Philip notices a car watching his apartment. Back in his favorite room, the bathroom, he obsessively washes his hands and tries to straighten his shirt and collar. He’s beginning to crack, and it’s not pretty.

Rallying, Philip walks into the living room and says they should go away together. Maybe to Foxwoods? Oh, not for gambling, he says in response to Megan’s worried face. For the spa! To get away from “the noise.” What, the noise of your guilty conscience? That comes with you.

Baldwin spots and photographs them leaving, and even from a distance, his partner notices that Philip looks jumpy. Megan remains oblivious. Alas, she’s driving, which means that Philip is powerless to outrace the car he spies following them. He jumpily asks if she can speed up, but she’s not having it. Too bad, because Baldwin pulls her over anyway. She’s a little perturbed by being confronted by multiple cops holding guns in her face, but not as perturbed as Philip is when he’s put under arrest.

Thanks to some sloppy searching at Philip’s apartment, Baldwin discovers the gun book under the bed. This prompts a swift lifting of the mattress, revealing a pile of 16 socks packed with panties. I appreciate that it’s an even number. No orphan socks left floating around this way.

Philip is telling the cops that they’ve got nothing, just a superficial resemblance to a surveillance photo. Oh no, Baldwin says, they’ve also got a gun, panties and FlexiCuffs. Oh, and the fake ID he used to buy a gun. Philip doesn’t have an answer for that, other than, “I’m a straight-A medical student. Would you guys care to explain to me why I would go around and shoot prostitutes in hotel rooms? What, you still don’t believe me?” This movie is finally getting good, because I’m starting to buy that this is actually real.

Megan is making excuses for him, saying he’s been too busy with his studying and his… studying. She did not know about the handcuffs, gun or panties under her mattress. And she doesn’t care! She asks if they think she doesn’t know. Wait, did she know there were 16 pairs of women’s panties under her mattress, where she slept?

The professor is telling the cops that it just isn’t physically possible for someone to be the star Philip is and then go to Rhode Island to beat up some hookers. Why are they not using their DNA evidence? Shouldn’t this be open and shut? And boy, do his fellow inmates find him appealing. I hope they cut his panties off. Oh wait, he won’t give them that chance. Wrapping his shoelaces around the prison bars, Philip tries to kill himself. But a cop stops him.

Besieged by reporters at her Family Manse, Megan is freaking out that people think he’s guilty. She’ll make Philip demand an apology when this is all over, she shrieks. Her father, however, is more skeptical. Megan is furious, and so gives a ridiculous statement to the press that accuses the cops of trying to sell a big story to make big bucks. (In real life, Megan actually used the phrase “wouldn’t hurt a fly” to describe Philip.) Watching this, Baldwin is impressed by Philip’s choice in mates.

Worried that Philip might be going free, even with a public defender, Baldwin gets ambitious and adopts a Boston accent briefly. They’re being pro-active about this case, and decide to do a pre-emptive strike on his alibis. This involves going to Megan’s Family Manse to interview her and their family, where Baldwin and company announce that Philip has been positively ID’d by the woman from Rhode Island. Oh, and he was posting things online as SexAddict 53885, stating that he was into submission and bondage and friendships with transsexuals. Baldwin also assumes that everyone tells the truth online, because he asks Megan if SexAddict 53885’s description of his 8-inches cut rings a bell. Guess so, because this is what convinces Megan that he’s guilty. She vomits. Seriously. A dick measurement convinces Megan more than 8 pairs of panty-filled socks under her mattress.

Watching Anderson Cooper discussing the case, Megan is still reeling from the lies. She’s trying to remember what separated Philip’s behavior from normal med students. Her friend swears it’s not Megan’s fault. He made her feel like no one ever had before, she cries. Maybe part of your problem, Megan, is that you ignored warning signs like not meeting his family (a topic which was never again raised, by the way).

At the jail, Philip immediately asks Megan if she got his suit from the tailor. “Wedding’s just a couple weeks away now,” he says. But Megan is not having it. She needs the truth. Philip, who is increasingly, obviously deranged, tells Megan that he loves her and always will. Then he says that maybe, maybe the person who did this didn’t feel like they deserved all that they had, including Megan. When Megan confronts him about the hookers, she asks if she needs to be tested. “Being tested is smart for anyone,” he says calmly. This movie is finally nailing the creepy/sleazy aspect of this story that made it such news. Oh, wait. Then Megan leaves her giant diamond engagement ring in front of the glass booth. You’re welcome, corrections officer!

As some sappy pop songs plays, Megan deletes her wedding website and packs away her wedding gown. Philip is eagerly fondling a shiv, before slicing open his wrists and scrawling Megan’s name and “Pocket” in his blood on the wall, next to the photo of her he had tacked up there. “Pocket,” I must add, is a nickname Megan and Philip used for one another, which was so infrequently mentioned in the movie that I had to turn to Wikipedia for help.

Flashback to Megan and Philip in happier times, lying under a tree and dreaming about their futures. Megan wants to have four boys in a row, and then a girl, so their daughter feels really protected. Yeah, from people like her father.

The end credits talk about the removal of the Erotic Services section of craigslist, and how the parents of the victim were denied seeing justice done by Philip’s suicide. Isn’t the fact that he’s now dead enough? Regardless, this whole movie made me miss that Mark Harmon miniseries about Ted Bundy, The Deliberate Stranger. Creepy murderers just aren’t as engrossing as they once were, I guess.

Follow me on Twitter @markpeikert.

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