Release Date:  August 27, 2004
Rating:  R (for violent content, language and some nudity)
Genre:  Thriller/Crime/Horror
Run Time: 1 hr. 30 min.
Director:  E. Elias Merhige
Actors:  Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Ann Moss, Harry Lennix, Kevin Chamberlin, Julian Reyes, Keith Campbell

How do you begin to critique a film that attempts to frighten us into believing that evil is rampant and insurmountable, yet can’t even convince us that its plot is real?  That’s the dilemma I’m faced with for “Suspect Zero,” and it’s not a good one.  But then again, neither is this film.

FBI Agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart, “The Core”) is assigned to a new post in sleepy Albuquerque, after unorthodox investigation tactics in Dallas led to his six-month suspension.  As soon as he arrives, Mackelway receives several taunting faxes from a Benjamin O’Ryan (Ben Kingsley), who appears to be a serial killer crisscrossing the country on a diabolical killing spree.  O’Ryan is using a form of mental telepathy to track his victims and claims to be a former FBI agent.  Oh yeah, and he’s also a churchgoer who likes to quote the Bible.  Naturally.  All psychopaths are, you know.

As Mackelway attempts to piece together the mystery with the help of his psychotic “friend,” his former partner (in love and in law) Fran (Carrie-Ann Moss) arrives.  She pities Mackelway when he begins having his own ESP visions – and when he claims that O’Ryan isn’t the real killer, but is tracking other killers who haven’t been caught.  Oddly enough, Mackelway doesn’t show any of his colleagues the massive amount of evidence he’s collected that support this thesis, instead opting to let them think he’s just insane.  Meanwhile, nobody but these two FBI agents are looking for O’Ryan, because somebody forgot to take out an arrest warrant.

Clearly, what this film wants to do is scare us, and not just a little bit.  It wants us to be afraid – very, very afraid – that we, our kids and our spouses will be kidnapped and tortured.  It foments our deepest fears with creepy scenes of innocent children mysteriously vanishing into the hands of a sadist, where they are tormented and killed.  It warns us that this can and might happen to us, even though we vigilantly watch over them – even mysteriously, in the middle of a field, with no people or cars around.  And, it taunts us that there is nothing and no one who can stop these horrors from happening.  Keeping track with the election year agenda, screenwriters Zak Penn (“Enemy at the Gates”) and Billy Ray (“Shattered Glass”) also try to convince us how evil the FBI – the one authority figure we might be able to trust with psychotics on the loose – really is.  But nooooo, it’s the big bad government that’s the real bad guy.  Ohhhh, now I’m really scared!

Director Elias Merhige’s last film, which was four years ago, was also his first big feature.  The name of that film?  “Shadow of the Vampire.”  Never heard of it?  What a surprise.  This one won’t be far behind.  The plot flits around like a lost scorpion, with holes as big as the black one Mackelway finds so fascinating.  We never learn whether Mackelway has the same ESP powers that O’Ryan has.  If so, did he go to the same FBI school?  If not, why does he keep having those weird visions?  And what are those bizarre hallucinatory montages that Merhige keeps flooding this film with?  And why am I still watching?