Tag Archives: Frank Collison

E. Elias Merhige’s Suspect Zero

E. Elias Merhige’s Suspect Zero is an interesting piece for me. Although it’s almost universally looked at as a failure, a shell of what it could have been, I’m crazy about it the way it is and think they did a fantastic job. It has a bit of a muddy past: Zak Penn wrote the script back in the 90’s, after which it gained much interest from the likes of Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck and others. It took until 2004 to finally get the film made, resulting in a version that many frown upon and consider a shitty film. Balls to them.

This is a grim, eerie serial killer chiller with an atmosphere thick enough to slice with a razor, and one extremely unsettling lead performance from a haggard, haunted Ben Kingsley. He plays Benjamin O Ryan, an ex FBI agent. Or is he? He’s efficiently hunting down and murdering random people (or are they?), leaving vicious visual calling cards and deliberately leaving victims lying on state lines to ensure the Bureau’s involvement. In particular he takes a shine to raw boned Agent Mackleway (Aaron Eckhart), leaving specific clues for him. O Ryan employs a metaphysical method of finding his victims, using an old psychic technique from a scrapped program the feds once explored. This gives extreme stylist Merhige a reason to throw sketchy, disconcerting images, sounds and editing into the fray, providing a visually and aurally chafing experience. Merhige is infamous for making the surreal, experimental shocker ‘Begotten’, and he brings the same stark, discomforting qualities to the proceedings here. I’m reminded of another experimental director who brought a near elemental aesthetic to an otherwise grounded serial killer flick: Tarsem Singh with his brilliant psychological fantasy ‘The Cell’. Suspect Zero is the grimy, fragmentary cousin to The Cell’s grandiose beauty. There’s also traces of Sev7n, Silence Of The Lambs, Millennium and more, yet the film finds its own groove and never sinks into derivative gestures. Composer Clint Mansell ditches his trademark celestial tones for something truly unique, a dread soaked nightmarish lullaby that gives the film an otherworldly tone to linger in dreams.

From Kingsley’s unnerving introduction hunting down a stranger on the interstate to his haunted, sympathetic final moments you get a feel for this extreme character that only this actor can give, infusing O Ryan with a zen like resolve that’s perforated by the psychological damage within. Eckart shows brittle desperation and blesses his performance with a touch of noir, which is appropriate to the film. Harry Lennix, Kevin Chamberlain, Frank Collison, William Mapother, famed writer Robert Towne and Carrie Anne Moss all give great work too. If you can forgive a few instances of murky plotting and one or two cheap plot turns, you’ll hopefully enjoy this as much as I do. It really deserves better attention and praise than it has gotten so far.

-Nate Hill

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Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock

I feel like a lot of people were expecting a vast, loosely paced biopic from Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, but what they really got was a tight, sardonic, laser focused and surprisingly emotional look at the relationship with his wife Alma (Helen Mirren), during the making of Psycho, and the monumental struggle it took in bringing the now iconic horror film to being. It’s about adjusting your expectations really, and keeping them in check, and you can enjoy what is one of the best films of that year. Meticulously casted with a galaxy of brilliant actors, royally mounted in terms of production design and costume (Oscar shamefully glossed over it in those categories) and written with brittle, whip-crack wit by John J. McLaughlin, it’s a treat for cinema lovers and Hitchcock junkies alike. Anthony Hopkins plays the old goat as a stubborn, eccentric, obtuse man, a filmmakers who is so fascinated by the universal revilement he’s met with upon pitching Psycho that he morbidly just has to see the production through, even if it means friction from all angles including Alma, the studio, the censorship board and everyone in between, not to mention mortgaging his snazzy mansion in the process. It’s an interesting look at one of the most important mile markers in the horror legacy, the dawn of the slasher film and Hollywood’s begrudging shift from camp to lurid exploits in the fright flick, which saw Alfred gleefully starting the snowball effect with Psycho. James D’arcy is uncannily perfect as Anthony ‘Norman Bates’ Perkins, Scarlett Johansson captures the virility and charisma of Janet Leigh magnetically, and Jessica Biel does great work as Vera Miles, looking almost unrecognizable. Hitchcock based the character of Norman Bates on famed serial killer Ed Gein, and as such the filmmakers have him appear to Hopkins in ghostly fashion, played grimly and excellently by character actor Michael Wincott, a supernatural stylistic flourish that some hated for its gimmickry but I found a neat, provocative touch. The cast gets deeper with work from Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Ralph Macchio, Richard Portnow, Michael Stuhlburg, Frank Collison and Kurtwood ‘Red Forman’ Smith as a crusty chairman of the censorship board. Hopkins slithers expertly into the prosthetic makeup and opaque personality of the character, clearly having a mischievous blast and cutting loose from some of the more laconic roles he’s done, it’s one of his most engaging performances. Sure it’s not a grand old biopic of the guy, spanning years and leaping multiple story arcs, but I found the intimate focus on his marriage and Psycho to be deliberate, riveting and well deserving of any audience’s attention, especially for fans of that era of Hollywood. A winner.

-Nate Hill