Suspect Zero review by Mike Long

The old adage "Nothing succeeds like success" certainly applies to Hollywood, where the rule is "You're only as good as your last movie" (except for certain actors who seem impervious to flops). So, Hollywood is very interested in money, but that doesn't mean that the majors won't give the little guy a chance...that is, if he's proven himself. As much as we love to accuse the film industry of being shallow, it has a history of allowing independent filmmakers the chance to play in the big league and apply their style to an expensive movie. This can lead to a surprise hit, or a disappointing head-scratcher, such as Suspect Zero.

Suspect Zero opens with an odd man, Benjamin O'Ryan (Ben Kingsley) apparently stalking and killing an innocent man. The scene then jumps to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where FBI agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) reporting to his new assignment. We learn that Mackelway has been transferred from Dallas due to a controversial situation in which he was involved that lead to a criminal being set free. As soon as Mackelway arrives, he begins to receive anonymous faxes with missing persons posters. He is then dispatched on his first assignment, investigating the murder from the first scene. Gathering clues, Mackelway calls in his former partner (and lover) Agent Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss). After discovering some more bodies, Mackelway realizes that he is chasing a serial killer, but one who apparently wants to be caught. ORyan appears to be using a psychic-like ability called Remote Viewing to choose his victims. But, is he using this power for good or evil?

Suspect Zero was directed by E. Elias Merhige, who had most recently helmed the celebrated 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire. Before that, he had made a series of experimental films, most notably Begotten, which has truly polarized those who have seen it. (For the record, I havent seen either Shadow of the Vampire or Begotten.) Merhiges avant-garde style may have worked for his art films and for the fantastic Shadow of the Vampire, but it totally destroys Suspect Zero. I did not set out to make a serial killer genre film. I did not set out to make a film about serial killers. I set out to express something much more deep... Merhige states on the audio commentary on this DVD. Well, good news, you met your goal. As someone who often studies the direction and camerawork in films, I typically nod to myself when Im impressed with a subtle shot. With Suspect Zero, I was constantly rolling my eyes as Merhige beats us over the head with color tinting, static-laden shots, dream-like scenes, etc. The film itself contains a very straight-forward story which relies on details (more on that in a moment), but Merhige has opted to let the images tell the story. Trust me, Im all for that, if the script can handle it, but Suspect Zero cant. The audience needs info and all that we get here is symbolism.

Although it may sound that way, Im not implying that Merhige ruins the film, but in the hands of another director, Suspect Zero could have been an entertaining film, as the story is quite intriguing. Of course, serial killer films are old hat by now, and there have been plenty which showed a connection between the killer and the pursuer. The idea of Remote Viewing which is brought into the film, the ability to see and describe other locations and events, is interesting, but we learn too little about it in the film. Also, ORyans motives for his actions is also intriguing, but it gets lost in the shuffle. Im sure that the film echoes the events described in the script by Zak Penn and Billy Ray, but Merhiges approach drains the life from them. At best, Suspect Zero could have played like a feature-length episode of The X-Files, as we have the disgraced FBI agent, with a female partner, who is investigating a crime which he feels to be supernatural in nature, although no one else believes him. Suspect Zero has a great cast, with Eckhart and Kingsley really digging into their roles, but the end result is muddled and boring. I suspect that there is zero chance that Ill be watching this movie again.

Suspect Zero stalks DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Overall, the transfer looks good, although Merhiges visual style may make one question this, as he purposely gives us many grainy, hazy shots. Overall, barring these intentional flaws, the image is sharp and clear. The film is full of muted tones, but the colors that are here look fine. There are some ringing haloes at times, but very little artifacting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue with no hissing or distortion. The film is full of many odd sound effects, as well as Clint Mansells haunting score, both of which sound great. The surround sound effects are good, as are the jarring bass tones.

The DVD contains an odd assortment of extras. We start with an audio commentary from director E. Elias Merhige. In this talk, Merhige reveals to us all of the hidden symbolism in the film and describes the message that he was actually trying to get across. With his hypnotic, droning voice and pompous style, Merhige creates one of the most irritating commentaries that Ive ever heard. This is followed by a 4-part featurette entitled, What We See When We Close Our Eyes. Running a total of 31-minutes, this segment turns it focus away from the film and instead explores the real life theories and practices of Remote Viewing, utilizing interviews with many government officials and scientists. Before seeing Suspect Zero, I knew nothing of Remote Viewing. Having watched this featurette, I now know less, as the explanations grow more and more cryptic. This is continued with Remote Viewing Demonstration (11 minutes) in which Merhige tries his hand at this psychic activity. The DVD contains an Alternate Ending, which is really just an epilogue, with optional commentary by Merhige, and the extras are finished off by the Internet Trailer (?) for the film, which is letterboxed at 1.85:1.

4 out of 10 Jackasses

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