Suspect Zero is a good example of what a director has to sacrifice when trying to make a living. The film has a very contrived and calculated structure. In the beginning of Suspect Zero, we start to question things (just as the films cop protagonist). As the film progresses, the questions start getting answered. When Suspect Zero is over, all questions are answered and wrapped up neatly into a nice little package.
Begotten is a film full of risks and unconstrained (or so it seems) experimentation. E. Elias Merhige claims that the film was inspired by a real life near death experience involving a car accident. The first fifteen minutes of Begotten are amazing (unfortunately). As the film progresses, thing get a bit boring and blurred together. Begotten does, however, some other interesting scenes. The film just lacks a certain flowing cohesion (yes, even experimental films somehow have to come together).
I once had a discussion with a “punk” feminist girl on Begotten and she described it as a film that looked like, “it was made by a bunch of loser goth kids to be spooky.” I would go that far as I feel the film has merit (even with it’s flaws). The feminist girls opinions aren’t to be trusted as she makes her income taking cheap nudie pictures (a sign of her belief in female “equality?”). Begotten is a film that should be seen by at least any half serious fan of underground and experimental cinema.
Now E. Elias Merhige has hit the mainstream (or scratched the surface) with Shadow of the Vampire (Nicholas Cage produced this due to his love for Begotten) and Suspect Zero. Shadow of the Vampire was interesting in a novelty (especially for fans of Nosferatu and F.W. Murnau) sort of way but was nothing groundbreaking. Suspect Zero is a whole other story.
I am kind of bored with serial killer films. The whole trend of the charismatic serial killer has been getting old. Suspect Zero features a serial killer (named O’Ryan) who becomes a killer due to the empathy he feels from the victims of other killers. O’Ryan was part of an FBI experiment (project Icarus) to create super telepathic abilities (originally a Soviet technique). He is able to see the deaths of serial killer victims and has lived a life of individualist pain. This “moral” serial killer is a somewhat refreshing look at the beat to death subgenre.
Director E. Elias Merhige attempts to make the formulaic Suspect Zero experimental in the way of image effects. Many scenes are shot in a distressed look (echoing back to Begotten), fire like oranges, and other emotion driven image tampering. These experimental techniques give Suspect Zero an almost music video like feel (but don’t most conventional films?). It feels as if Merhige is trying as desperately and hard as possible to let a little of his artistry show. Merhige is a victim of having to support himself. He is not going to make any money directing another Begotten. The bills start to add up.
If you listen to the audio commentary for Suspect Zero you will notice the embarrassingly pathetic attempts of Merhige to legitimize Suspect Zero as a serious artistic film. It is a quite depressing experience (I could only bare a couple minutes of his “confessionals”). Merhige seems an unsuccessful and lower budget version of David Fincher. I don’t think he will be making a “comeback.”
Suspect Zero held my interest enough to get through it (I have actually seen it a couple times). E. Elias Merhige is a another victim of American economic reality. The United States does not promote the progression of the arts and culture (a threat to economic interests). We have Rob Zombie to tell us what slasher films we need to know trivia for, and Wes Craven for producing terrible remakes of his best films. Cinematic innovation and experimentation are anti-American.