Serial killer movies have been done to death, so one has to wonder why in the hell there seems to be a resurgence of them this year. Like various other specialised genres, when they hit their mark they can be brilliant filmmaking (“The Silence of the Lambs”, “Se7en”), slickly made entertainment (“Copycat”, “Kiss the Girls”), very average dramas (“Bone Collector”, “Along Came a Spider”) or as the two main examples this year have shown, total and utter bores (“Twisted”, “Taking Lives”).
So now comes “Suspect Zero” which belongs somewhere in the middle. Make no mistake this is hardly a memorable thriller and it doesn’t exactly shock or grip you with its languid pacing, but as these films go there are some quite interesting and oddly flavoured elements here which, like say “The Crimson Rivers”, pushes this above most films in the genre. It’s certainly better deserving of the rather woeful late August release slot its been shoved into.
Most of that is due to the direction of E. Elias Merhige. The man behind the brilliant “Shadow of the Vampire” brought his touch to the rather average script and by doing so has given it a lot more colour, most notably the general feel of the movie. This isn’t about the shock gore value of the crimes nor does it try to do the familiar rained out dank & dark city settings that are a staple of this fields. Instead, much of this is shot out in the harsh sunlight of the mesas and buttes of the American mid-west desert. While the movie is about catching a killer, its focus is more on the two main men and their methods rather than who’s getting taken next and who the bad guy is.
There’s not much of a mystery, no real twists or cliched jump out shocks, rather this bears more of a resemblance to that Jack Nicholson drama “The Pledge” but with much more interesting characters and study of its subject matter (funnily enough both starred Aaron Eckhart). The subject in this case is the skill of remote viewing, essentially psychic drawing which a former FBI agent is using to hunt down serial killers (although his true motive is actually more interesting). Both of the ideas are intriguing although a little too much time is spent exploring them (a trim of about 10 minutes or so would’ve really helped).
The actors do a decent job. After the “Thunderbirds” debacle, it’s good to see Kingsley come back a bit with a more underplaid creepy turn. Eckhart is a little flatter, the hunky chiseled thinking woman’s sex symbol is a bit stolid but does his best with the material, likewise Moss who gets frustratingly little to do as a rather cold fellow agent. There’s various other characters but really this film is almost all Eckhart or Kingsley and so most of the film is carried on their thankfully strong shoulders.
Whilst some of the elements do go off in unexpected directions, others sadly fall into the usual patterns. The difficult boss; the former embarrassing incident which turned fellow agents against our lead; various story and logic leaps which, whilst possible, feel a little too far fetched; and the cliched ending to give the film some action. Still, aside from the locations, many of the other elements of the movie are nicely offbeat. The score, the camera angles and filters; all are just slightly off kilter which adds a subtle unnerving element to everything going on. Not great, but better than you’d expect.