Some movies seem to split the moviegoing audience as wide apart as the election process in America. You either love ‘em or you hate ‘em, and it seems as if there is no in-between. The recent release -- Suspect Zero -- is just such a movie. For some strange reason, many within the moviegoing audience have found a niche in “serial killer” themes. The success of the Silence of the Lambs Trilogy with Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Red Dragon, (preceded by Manhunter), along with such films as Seven, has helped give credibility to the genre. Suspect Zero falls into the recent serial killer format, but with its own distinctive twist.
This review is hard to write without using some spoilers. Thankfully, the trailers in theaters have given away the premise already, and most who interested in this movie will already know what the themes are. On the surface, what we have is a movie about a serial killer who is killing other serial killers. You can’t give too much away there except to say that the character played by Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley, Benjamin O’Ryan, is on a mission from God. He has been called to execute the vengeance of God, and the great question we have as a viewer throughout the movie is whether he really might be on a quest from God or if he is a schizophrenic with delusions. Aaron Eckhart plays convincingly the part of FBI Profiler and Investigator, Thomas Mackelway -- a troubled individual having conflict between right and wrong, love and hate, throughout the movie. In this character, we see someone struggling with the gifts and talents that God is giving, someone struggling with the decision to follow the call or give in to the temptations around him.
Mackelway is on the trail of O’Ryan and is quickly drawn into the investigation by visions and premonitions. As a result, he develops some unorthodox perspectives on the case he is investigating. Meanwhile, he is having a difficult time convincing his former love interest and partner, Fran Kulok, played by Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity from the Matrix series) as to the truth behind his theories. He also has a difficult time convincing his supervisor and co-workers of his theory, and thus becomes somewhat of a lone ranger. Despite the criticism, he knows his own convictions, and while he cannot explain what is going on, he is driven by a force that he knows comes from some place other than his own mind.
We see the struggle of following one's own heart, even at a cost, no better than in the character of O’Ryan played by Kingsley. In many ways, the character is a Messiah figure. He is able to see events around him through space and time, and he has a passion for the innocent while at the same time understanding the need to destroy the wicked and evil. His primary desire is to show love to the innocent and protect them from the evil that surrounds them. I will say here that the color schemes in the movie are used quite effectively: Black represents evil, and there is enough imagery to portray this; but among other color schemes is the significance of the shedding of blood shown through the use of the reds.
We also see that some people will, for an eternity, be able to see the wrongs they have done. We get a glimpse of the ultimate love of the O’Ryan character, complete with a sacrifice theme and the foretelling of that event. And we see a concept generally accepted within Christianity -- the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (after Jesus left he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within believers and gave them the same power that he had when he was on earth).
Throughout the movie are images of Jesus, crosses, and Mary the Mother of Jesus. Surprisingly, those images are portrayed in a respectful and even reverent way. In one beautiful scene, that had some significance to me, O’Ryan is following a killer that has abducted a child in Wichita Kansas (the town I happen to live in). O’Ryan decides to attend an African American Church there, and the choir is singing a song about Jesus. While seeing the image of the crucifixion in the stained glass windows of the church and reflecting on the words of the song -- and specifically the person of Jesus Christ -- we see that O’Ryan is moved to tears.
From a technical perspective, I believe the direction by E. Elias Merhige and the writing by Zak Penn is nothing short of brilliant. In many ways this is an art film. It could be used for film students, to demonstrate for them the importance of story and the potential of using various visual effects to enhance that story. The story itself reminds me tremendously of Flannery O’Conner, the brilliant Christian writer who used allegory in the telling of many of her stories, all having a dark side, yet all with a Gospel message. I don’t know what the conscious intent of Penn or Merhige was in incorporating of Christian spiritual concepts in this story, but they are ample and obvious.
From the editing, to the musical score -- a brilliant one that reminded me at times of the original score from Night of the Living Dead -- this film is almost perfect. Kingsley is as brilliant as ever and I would not be surprised to see him considered once again, come time for Oscar nominations. It is truly some of his best work in a long time and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There are numerous themes and concepts that could be touched on from this movie, specifically related to the comparisons of story elements with spiritual truths. For that reason, it is a movie that I will personally want to see more than once.
Now, back to my "love it or hate it" comment in the first paragraph: I went to see this movie with my family, including my wife and my daughter and future son-in-law, both of whom are film majors and graduate students. My daughter’s fiancé, Brett, and I both loved the movie. But my wife and my daughter both hated it. I don’t know if, universally, guys will like it more, or what, but I did find the obvious split in my family unusual. This is a movie that from a lot of the early feedback, people either love or hate, so I would expect there to be a number of readers of this review who would fall into both categories.
It is however a movie that I believe, within the genre, stands on it’s own. Moreover, for a formula that has been beaten to death in some ways (pun intended), it is in itself unique, and that makes the movie worth seeing. The technical components themselves are also worthy for the fan of the art film, or of film in general. If you are looking only for a fun evening, I wouldn’t recommend Suspect Zero, but if you are looking for a thought-provoking experience, the opportunity to experience wonderful film making and innovative story telling, this film is as close to a masterpiece as I have seen in some time for this format.
In closing, I don’t know why it is, but I often get an extreme amount of criticism about reviews of this style of movie or of any in the horror genre. The truth is that, as author Ted Dekker points out: “To paint evil with anything less than the darkest of brushes is not an honest portrayal of evil.” I firmly believe that to truly enjoy the good things of life, we must have a glimpse of the darkness of evil. That doesn’t mean that we have to subject ourselves to it all of the time. The reminders though, as portrayed in Suspect Zero, that there are consequences to pay for evil actions and that God ultimately will punish every form of evil are excellent reminders for all of us. I personally enjoy those reminders, and believe that movies like this provide excellent opportunities for discussion regarding spiritual themes. It is for that reason, that I am recommending seeing Suspect Zero.
On a scale of 1 – 10, for a thought-provoking and troubling good time, a delightful 8.