Be Afraid, Very Afraid, of "Suspect Zero" Thriller
- 2004 27 Aug
Release Date: August 27, 2004
Rating: R (for violent content, language and some nudity)
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?
If it wasn’t so absurd, I might be scared. It is creepy, but when you start to think about it, everything falls apart. We’re supposed to believe that O’Ryan is onto an earth-shattering theory called “suspect zero,” whereby certain criminals don’t want people to know what they are doing, so they try not to leave any clues. I know – no one’s ever thought of that, have they? Stand by, all law enforcement.
Sure, Sir Ben does a decent good job with his hackneyed role, if you like watching him sneer, kill and connect to another universe while tapping his hands like a Parkinson patient on speed. Eckhart is okay, but doesn’t stand out. But Moss’ character? What character? The dialogue (“I want this man apprehended – now!”) is laughable. Like Harry Lennix’s robot-like performance, it all makes you wonder if you’ve tuned into a bad '70s cop show that has somehow been infected with “X-Files” gibberish.
I could analyze the reasons why people like horror movies (catharsis), but frankly, life has enough horrors of its own. Throw in the violence and the gore – with kids, no less! – and I’m ready to walk. I don’t need to plunge myself into the depths of that sickness. And don’t try and tell me that evil can’t be conquered. It has, on the cross, and I refuse to buy into Hollywood’s mental torture routine that denies the reality of a living God and His abundant goodness and grace. Meanwhile, has anybody ever heard of a thing called logic?
In a most telling moment, O’Ryan says to Mackelway, “We saw things that no man should ever see.” You said it, bubba – starting with this film. Fortunately for you, I saw it, so you don’t have to. And trust me, you don’t want to.
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: Character continually pops pills that look like aspirin.
- Language/Profanity: Almost a dozen f—words, a half-dozen milder obscenities and several profanities.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Drawings of nude, mutilated bodies; rape scene with nude breasts.
- Violence: Multiple shots of dead, bloody and mutilated bodies; multiple implied murders; one rape scene; multiple references to killing, maiming; multiple threats of/discussions about death, killing, and violence, including gore.