capsule review: suspect zero

Most critics, understandably, view Suspect Zero as an overly stylized (read: insubstantial), derivative and even pretentious genre effort. But while it doesn’t escape from the clichés that come with serial killer procedurals, Suspect Zero does have a few flashes of inspiration – call them twists of the knife – that make the film worthwhile. Begin with E. Elias Merhige stylish direction, marked by fascinating, off-kilter camera angles that, along with clever editing and scene splicing, create a visually arresting film. At times slow to take in the scenery, at times fast to convey the disturbing imagery that haunt two of the film’s characters, Merhige puts in a lot of artistry in the film’s composition, the result of which is a film drenched in atmosphere. It’s worth noting that despite the gruesome deaths, the film isn’t particularly gory and has very little on-screen violence. Suspect Zero is, above all, an exercise in creeping, skin-burrowing dread.

The story has its own flourishes, the first of which is the way in which the paranormal ability of remote viewing is woven into the film. Without the self-consciousness of an X-Files episode, where the premise of the FBI using clairvoyance to remotely find criminals would be right at home, Suspect Zero is a science fiction film that doesn’t make a fuss about being a science-fiction film. In fact, the premise is so effortless presented as plausible that we are free to focus on the other nice flourish, namely, the notion of a serial killer who preys on other serial killers, and the Suspect Zero hypothesis of a serial killer who is truly random in his method, motive, and choice of victims. Cue in a deliciously intense performance by Sir Ben Kingsley as the man who may or not be “Suspect Zero,” along robust performances by Aaron Eckhard as Agent Mackelway and Carrie Anne-Moss as his partner Fran Kulok, and Suspect Zero becomes, not so much a crime thriller, but a psychological thriller on the nature of confronting evil in the world punctuated by intensely dramatic character moments.

Where Suspect Zero stumbles is in failing to flesh out its ideas. There are worse things, however, than being left with wanting more, and the film proves surprisingly enjoyable.

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