Grown Up Horror: Below

Below, which opened in like, no theaters in 2002, was written by Darren Aronofsky and directed by David Twohy, so its pedigree is pretty well established just from their involvement. The characterizations are spot on, the writing snappy, and the situations introduced nothing short of terrifying, on a conceptual level.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

A few years ago, an English friend and I were exchanging comments on my personal blog about something or other when he brought up an interesting point: if you watch American films about World War 2, you’d think the US won the war single-handedly.

Which means when you say ‘World War’ it sounds kind of like the US was up against the rest of Earth. It sounds that way if you watch The History Channel, if you talk to a Greatest Generationer, or to my dad.

Below, a horror movie taking place on an American U-boat, presents a more ecumenical grasp of the US’s involvement in the war, while delivering some pretty decent scares along the way.

The film begins with a group of shipwreck survivors floating in a rubber raft; a small plane flies over, but the plane is low on fuel and can’t stop to pick them up. The plane relays the raft’s location to an American Uboat crew on patrol nearby, who immediately change course, though they are hesitant because of the presence of Germans nearby.

The survivors were aboard a British hospital ship torpedoed by a German sub, and are the only ones alive of the 300 or so medical staff and patients. Olivia Williams , best known for her role in Rushmore and Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse TV series, plays Claire, one of the survivors, and the fact that there is now a woman on board complicates an already complicated situation.

Now in the film there comes a narrative shift–we come into the movie thinking our protagonist is Odell, the sharp young officer who can recite the submariner’s motto in Latin or perhaps Captian Brice, a career Navy man played aptly by Bruce Greenwood. An ugly incident concerning the third survivor of the British shipwreck and Captain Brice leads Claire to realize that Brice is only ‘acting’ Captain, filling in for Captain Winters, whose mysterious death Claire sets out to investigate once things begin going hinky on the sub.

And let me say, a WW2 sub is no place for things to go hinky. Not at all.

Besides being a decent murder mystery and atmospheric horror, the sub itself triggers a very special form of claustrophobia–fear of being trapped in a small space where one will run out of oxygen and die. Everything is horribly, horribly analogue, reflecting the reality of the very slim margin of error on board a Uboat. Especially since the survival of the crew hinges on someone understanding the importance of Checking Their Work and remembering to Carry The Goddamn One. To wit: Not only did a crew have to keep track of their own movements to know where the hell they were, they had to keep track of enemy Uboats in order to be able to guess where the latter were so they didn’t just blunder across each other’s path. And they did anyway, since all the Germans had to do to screw up one’s plans was slightly change course.

Plus, if your engine doesn’t run smoothly you may wind up a adrift a few hundred feet below the surface, with no way to get back up. You could try and go out the hatch, and die in the first few seconds from either drowning or hypothermia. Plus there’s no way you can hold your breath long enough to swim the 600 feet. Plus you might get the bends, unless that’s only for scuba divers. Plus there are eight hundred billion other things that can go wrong so it’s a wonder any submarine crews survived the war, at least according to my own semi-hysterical calculations. And that’s just what can happen WITHOUT running into the enemy!

"What do you mean, 'forgot to carry the one?' DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT GERMAN WATER LOOKS LIKE AS OPPOSED TO ENGLISH?"

The rest of the cast is comprised of capable character actors–some of which are playing against type with pretty interesting results. Nick Chinlund, who usually plays sleazebags, is the tough and reliable Engineering Chief, Zach Galifiniakis plays a nerd fascinated with ghosts and the supernatural who reads his ‘Tales from the Vault’ type comics to the rest of the crew as entertainment, and Holt McCallany, best known from his small role in Fight Club or Alien 3, plays man’s man and yoyo enthusiast Loomis, an alpha consigned to beta status. Jason Flemyng, from approximately any English movie with special effects or action scenes, puts in a memorable turn as Stumbo, a scumbaggy fellow with a penchant for tasteless jokes involving dead bodies.

Below, which opened in like, no theaters in 2002, was written by Darren Aronofsky and directed by David Twohy, so its pedigree is pretty well established just from their involvement. The characterizations are spot on, the writing snappy, and the situations introduced nothing short of terrifying, on a conceptual level.

This is definitely one to add to your Instant Watch queue, a great film for a dinner party or date night. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Big Drunk Posts – Babe: Pig In the City

Read this. Don’t skip it. You’ll be thankful you did.

Mrs. Hoggett learns Horrifyng Lessons

When the original Babe movie came out, a young cousin of mine insisted on watching it over and over again. Although I loved the movie when it came out (I was in high school at the time) watching it ad nauseum turned me off to the notion of the sequel, Babe: Pig in the City, when it appeared in theaters.It seemed like a shameless attempt at cashing in on zeitgeist.

It sort of fell off my radar after that.

In 2008, The Onion did a New Cult Canon review of the film, and in reading about it and watching the clips I realized I might really be missing out on something. I put it in my Netflix queue and sort of forgot about it.

Then one of my dad’s closest friends died.

I found out the night before, was up most of the night crying, and decided to call in to work the following day.

While at home, I saw we had movies, and being a person who likes movies in a time of emotional upset, I decided to watch whatever the hell was near at hand. It turned out to be today’s entry.

As a children’s movie, Babe: Pig in the City is somewhat wanting. There are a lot of bizarre plot twists, characters with shady motivations, disturbing characters, and downright twisted imagery.

Things get weird. So, so weird.

As an affirmation of remaining true to oneself, throwing off the expectations of others, the benefits that may come with risk, and continuing to struggle in the face of impossibly bleak odds, it is a goddamn masterpiece.

That’s right: the truth gets typed in bold.

Between horrible Rube Goldbergian accidents, geriatric clowns, licentious chimpanzees, art deco/steampunk architecture, rampant species-ism, brutal life lessons, and animal violence, Pig in the City seems more like something one of the Davids (Lynch or Cronenberg) might jot down in their Bad Dream Diary and forget about. It’s easy to see why it failed as children’s movie, when it was really the next City of Lost Children.

At base, it’s about getting separated from one’s protector/parent/comfort zone and the inherent fear of needing to fend for oneself, as well as other less-articulated fears like fierce dogs, strangers, liars, clowns, and even the police:  in a particularly frightening scene where the Health Department conducts a Swat-style raid on a hotel full of animals in hiding,, many animals are brutally subjected to cages, choke-poles, nooses and just rough treatment. There are so many facets to the film it’s almost trite to try and name them all. What Miller was attempting was something less like Bambi and more like ET, but unfortunately the timing was wrong–a film like this would have cleaned up in the 80’s, when children’s fare tended to wander into the dark more often.Unfortunately, the late 90’s was more geared towards the sugar-coated, Nerf-encased products of today.

Do not, do NOT, be frightened away from seeing this movie because of this image. It's worth it, believe me.

An important factor differentiating the first Babe from its much darker second is that the second was largely scripted by George Miller, who directed (but didn’t write) the first. Miller began his career as a trauma center surgeon in Australia, putting back together people who had grievously damaged themselves in traffic accidents, and it was this constant exposure to youth bike/racing culture that brought him to write and direct the films he’s much better known for than Babe:

The Mad Max films.

The man who directed a movie about a sweet little pig who refuses to conform to barnyard stereotypes also wrote Mad Max. He wrote THUNDERDOME for Christ’s sake.

Here’s a fun little gratuitous jaunt in the Wayback Machine, about a woman named Entity and her little Raggedy Man:

Yeah, I feel like watching it again RIGHT NOW, too. Mel Gibson may be a crazy ass ranty mysogynist, but that movie isn’t just Mel Gibson. It’s George Miller, Tina Turner, Angry Anderson, giant trucks, chainsaw battles, and everything else.

Pig in the City is a rightful entry into the new Film Canon: as mentioned above, it makes an abysmal children’s movie, and an amazing affirmation of keeping one’s moral compass amid unrelenting social pressure.

On the screen, I finally saw the sorts of things I believe in being displayed: respect for others and their rights and beliefs, understanding, reciprocal altruism (the concept that the good you do may be returned: karma, sort of), and most of all, optimism.

The first two-thirds of the movie are brilliant, but it begins to break down in the 3rd with an extended ‘zany party bungee’ scene. I can see why such a strangely lighthearted sequence would fit, if only it had been a little more underplayed it might have netted the Babe movies another Oscar nod.

There are rumors that Miller is writing a 3rd installment to the franchise: they may come to nothing, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a 3rd Babe film. I hope it’s as good as Babe 1, if only so it makes decent money and is a delight for children, but secretly I’m hoping for another installment of the wondrous weirdness that is Pig in the City.

Happy Pig! See it for the happy pig!

Pig in the City is not available on Instant Watch.

4 More Life Lessons from 80’s Movies

There is no saving Artax. He has reached his limit, and will not be moved. Atreyu can’t save his horse, because Artax doesn’t want to save himself–and when someone loses the will to live, even after the intervention of their friends and family, there’s little that will drag them back.

Every culture in the world will eventually produce a set of maxims for behavior; from the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, to the doctrines of Thomas Aquinas, to basic Internet Etiquette, there are morals and suggestions for human interaction everywhere–you could trip over them and someone would be there to tell you what you did wrong.

Oddly enough, I noticed a lot of 80’s movies had such maxims, and have been collecting them and posting them as I think of them. The first part of the list can be found here.

4. The Secret of Nimh – ‘Crying doesn’t solve anything.’

Sometimes, your best isn't good enough--whatever it is, it needs to get DONE.

Mrs. Brisby has some serious problems.

Her husband was recently killed in an accident, one of her three children is desperately ill, and she needs to move her family (including her house) to a new location, otherwise they will be crushed by the farmer’s tractor when it is time to harrow the field they live in.

Lady has a lot on her mind.

So when the tractor starts up unexpectedly, she and her friend Auntie Shrew (who I always thought of as one hardass bitch–she either had some messed up stuff happen in her life or did some time in Vermin Jail), who are both about the size of a lemon, take it on.

A mouse and a shrew take on a tractor.

While all the other animals in the field are hauling ass from the path of the tractor, Mrs. Brisby and the shrew are running towards it, screaming warnings. They reach the tractor, clamber up a loose chain, and begin scrambling about its interior in search of a way to shut it down. Brisby, faced with the prospect of falling into the churned earth the harrow blade turns up, shuts down, and can only cling to the tractor and shake. The Shrew winds up tearing out a crucial hose (oil?) and the tractor shuts down.

Later, as the two gather their wits in the high grass, Brisby breaks down crying over the ordeal, but also the recent traumas she’s faced.

Coldly, almost hatefully, the Shrew snarls at her to “Stop it.”

You'd be surprised how many good pictures there aren't of her.

The Shrew is disgusted, not by the display, but because Brisby doesn’t have the luxury of being selfish right now, of thinking about her woes and weeping. She needs to get her shit together and figure out how she’s going to save her children–when Brisby plaintively weeps ‘I wish Jonathan [her husband] was here’ you get a sense that Brisby was overly reliant on him, that he would have figured something out himself, saving her the trouble. She wants to be taken care of again, to have someone else fix her problems, and she doesn’t have that option anymore–it’s up to her.

Brisby is now a single mother. The rest of the movie consists of her learning how strong she truly is, as she faces terrifying creatures and learns to trust herself to do the right thing. I can’t think of another movie in recent years that so elegantly explores the plight of a single parent and all that it entails. Not a children’s movie about talking mice, anyway.

3. Legend – ‘Trust People.’

Who is our Generation's Tim Curry? What actor in recent years could step into these pants? WHO?

With all the fantasy trappings surrounding Legend–unicorns, goblins, fairies, pixies, wild boys in shorts, princesses, giant castles, monsters,  and a certain giant red campy fellow–it’s easy to lose sight of what the film is really about: trusting people.

Jack is a recluse, living in the woods with his animal friends and relaxed dress code. There’s a reason he’s there and not in the city, and it isn’t to save money on production costs–he’s a hermit, he doesn’t trust people. Only Lily, a spoiled Princess, can get close to him.

Which is why, when Jack takes Lily to see the unicorns and she ignores him, breaking a major rule and actually TOUCHING ONE, he loses his trust in her. He doesn’t know that the reason the unicorn freaked out was due to the goblins’ poisoned dart, or anything about the machinations of Darkness and his goblins. He thinks that Lily touching the unicorn is what ruined everyone’s day.

So though he spends the rest of the movie trying to make right what happened, and save her, it is also about him remembering to trust her, no matter what she’s done or how she’s changed. Remember, when he left her, she was all ‘Disney Princess Barbie,’ with the smiles and the charm and the giggling. When he finds her again, she looks like this:

If it doesn't fit, you improvise!

Since he dumped her, she’s been rooming and sharing clothes and makeup tips with Klaus Nomi Darkness, a red-skinned fellow with an infectious laugh and an even more relaxed dress code than Jack. They’re kind of like Mickey and Donald–Mickey (Darkness) wears pants, and Donald (Jack) wears a shirt–together they make a whole outfit.

Anyhoo, when Jack has to make his choice, he’s got a bunch of fairies yelling in his ear that Lily can’t be trusted, that she’s changed. His faith in her is an illustration of the pure goodness alluded to in the rest of the film–after all, being good means being good ALL the time, not getting to pick and choose when you follow the rules–the fairies hearts’ were in the right place but they don’t know everything, as is established earlier by Gump not being aware of Oona’s secret.  Jack trusts Lily–and the day is saved.

2. The Burbs – Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playthings

Dear Tom Hanks: Comedy misses you. Please take its calls again.

I miss the comedy films of Tom Hanks.

I haven’t seen too many of his dramas the last five years or so–no particular reason other than I already see more than enough dramas and have no interest in Dan Brown’s books.

But one upon a time, he made comedies. Fantastic, creative comedies the likes of which aren’t made anymore because of the lack of fart jokes and horrible people in them. Hanks took a middling comedy and elevated it to hilarity.

The Burbs is a comedy about a man who decides to spend his vacation lying around the house, drinking beer with friends and speculating on the new neightbors who have just moved in. He wants to garden, to vegetate, to putter, to wear his pajamas all day and relax.

But his bucolic rest is interrupted when he and his buddies begin inflating the importance of neighborhood events into something sinister–a missing neighbor, an errant toupee, the new neighbors digging in the backyard during a rainstorm in the middle of the night… conclusions are drawn and plans are made.

The lesson here (although it turns out that the neighbors WERE up to something unsavory) is that boredom can lead to invention the same way necessity can, the difference being that being bored usually gets people into trouble–boredom in a relationship can lead to cheating, boredom with a job leads to dissatisfaction and doing it half-assed, boredom with your life breeds a need for escapism.

Not only that, but The Burbs were one of those early movies that had the courage to suggest that maybe the good old days..weren’t so good? Like No Country For Old Men, it dared to present the idea that rose-colored glasses were a pretty poor medium for viewing the past.

1. The Neverending Story – When You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going.

This is the big one for me.

 i
Just looking at it breaks my heart all over again

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from The Neverending Story–about following your dreams, about courage, about trusting people–but the one that always, always, always jumps out at me when I am watching it is that no matter how shitty things get, you have to keep going.

Depression is a pervasive illness many people don’t realize they have. It’s insidious, it creeps in and ruins your good times, pushes you away from happiness, makes you hurt others (this numbness, where the things you usually enjoy bring no pleasure, is known as ‘anhedonia’) . Many people think of depression as being sad for a time, as a period with a fixed beginning and ending. Depression is not being ‘down in the dumps,’  it’s a chemical imbalance that can become more or less pronounced, but never really goes away. It can be medicated, and combated with therapy, but at best you will learn how to manage it and live with it.

Enter the nefarious scene with Artax the horse–Atreyu tries to drag the horse bodily out of the swamps of sadness, and when the latter won’t move he becomes angry, screaming, insulting the horse, then just pleading and begging as the horse sinks deeper into the black muck. ‘Move, please,’ still brings tears to my eyes, every time I hear that barely-teenaged boy’s voice.

There is no saving Artax. He has reached his limit, and will not be moved. Atreyu can’t save his horse, because Artax doesn’t want to save himself–and when someone loses the will to live, even after the intervention of their friends and family, there’s little that will drag them back.

It’s a scene that doesn’t get the cinematic respect it should–I mean, the movie isn’t Schindler’s List, but it’s no Battlefield: Earth, either. It’s a moving metaphor for depression: after all, it’s easy to stop moving, but sometimes nearly impossible to get going again.

More than anything else, depression is what happens when you forget the feeling of joy, of hope. Remembering it, rediscovering that warmth and happiness, can be one of the most rewarding moments in your life, but my god, getting there can be an uphill battle.

He Kept Going.

Ramblings: A Girl’s Guide to Sexual Awakening in Film

I cannot count the cinema essays and articles I’ve read over the years where some critic lists scenes in movies that first introduced him to the concept, ‘Whoa! Girls and Boys have DIFFERENT PARTS!’

If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard Phoebe Cates’s red bathing suit scene mentioned, I’d be dictating this entry to my houseboy ‘Ceviche’ while we lounged poolside somewhere decorous and decadent.

I cannot count the cinema essays and articles I’ve read over the years where some critic lists scenes in movies that first introduced him to the concept, ‘Whoa! Girls and Boys have DIFFERENT PARTS!’

If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard Phoebe Cates’s red bathing suit scene mentioned, I’d be dictating this entry to my houseboy ‘Ceviche’ while we lounged poolside somewhere decorous and decadent.

If this doesn't drum up traffic I don't know what will. Except porn.

There are others, usually somewhat unique to the critic; mentions are made of Marilyn Monroe’s famous subway grating scene, Raquel Welch’s furry underpants, Sophia Loren, Bridgette Bardot; the list goes on and on into the ‘sirens’ of today, none of which are coming to mind.

I remember in elementary school my good friend Eddie waxed rhapsodic about the tassle scene at the end of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark; we swore a pact that if I sprouted boobs like hers I would practice spinning tassles off them, and one day find him and show him. Alas, I sprouted no such thing(s). I’m sorry I let you down Eddie–it’s my life’s great failure.

Anyhow, I was reading one of the inestimable Todd Alcott’s  film reviews when I saw he’d chosen to review ‘Labyrinth.’ But Nowhere in his review did he mention how David Bowie’s tights-swathed area ignited a fascination in millions of young girls, sending them toddling down the road to puberty, or how Jereth’s entreaty for Sarah to love him by obeying him was the hardest task for her to face in the whole story–after all, physical dangers are often easy to identify. It’s the emotional pitfalls that are hardest to escape from.

So! In the interest of exploring new territory, I bring you the subject of this entry, and encourage you, the reader, whatever gender you are and however you are oriented,  to share your own stories in the comments below: A Girl’s Guide to Sexual Awakening in Film.

1. Labyrinth  – Men Can Also Be Objectified.

Ken’s parts were different that Barbie’s. That much I was clear on.

The Man, The Legend, The Peen

But how they differed was not readily evident, not even in the art books I was exposed to as a child. What wasn’t carefully covered by a fig leaf was pretty weird looking, and it was hard to believe such a fuss in our culture was made over covering the equivalent of a garden slug.

And well–just LOOK at our boy there. Not very inspiring, in the crotchal region. And of course that was intentional on the part of Michelangelo, but still. You hear a line in an action movie where someone says something about a ‘huge dick’ and that is your frame of reference.

There’s also the fact that for a few years in the 80’s, it was acceptable to show naked women in PG-rated movies. Sheena, Clash of the Titans..others that aren’t coming to mind. Anyway, I waited patiently to see naked men, thinking it was only fair–to no avail.

Enter a little movie about a sparkly, fancy-pants magic man who wants a girlfriend he can boss around.

This picture is worth lots and lots of words. LOOOOTS of words.

What really cemented my fascination with the movie was the fact that OTHER girls were fascinated, too.

What was IN there? WHAT?

We speculated, joked, stuffed our pajama bottoms with pillows and danced around. But our questions weren’t answered until much later in life, usually in sweaty and breathless encounters with people as terrified (or drunk) as we were.

But the magic of those pants and their mysterious contents lives on, both in the silly, girlish thrill I get watching Bowie dance and in the hundreds of thousands of websites, artwork, and articles dedicated to them. Articles like this one right here.

Objectification holds within it certain flaws; after all, turning a person into an object removes responsibility from the viewer for the object’s feelings, motivations, and any dissenting opinions they might have. It removes the object from being ‘The Other’ and makes being attracted to them simpler, and without emotional risk to the viewer. In short, you don’t have to care about them.

Since Jereth is the film’s villain (and I’m not confusing him with, you know, a real person) I feel quite okay objectifying him. I objectify the HELL out of him, in fact.

2. Conan the Destroyer – Girls can chase boys!

When asked by a young naive girl what Zula, played by Grace Jones, would do if she were attracted to someone, Zula responds ‘Grab him, and take him.’

When I was little, for a time, I wanted to be Grace Jones when I grew up.

This was MAGNIFICENT when I heard it.

I had been taught by movies, cartoons and books that boys went after ‘ladies,’ that they came to your house with chocolates, flowers, and awkwardness. You played hard to get, you pretended you weren’t interested, you spent your life waiting by the phone for boys to call.

We all know now what bullshit that is. I have been approached by men a handful of times, and each relationship I’ve had began by my showing interest in someone and pursuing them, not the other way around. Given my poor track record for social interactions and tendency towards bluntness, chasing the boys was pretty much my only option. And they ran, believe me. They ran like hell.

But for every ten or twenty who hauled ass, at least one was into that. Men (at least the men I tend to hang with or date ) are HUMAN, which means they are not above wanting emotional validation, and not above wanting to feel special, sometimes even feel pursued. These men, at least I’ve found, are often the ones who are much more secure emotionally, are are less likely to pull bullshit mindgames or marginalize their significant other. And they don’t want it done to them, either.

So I’d like to thank Grace Jones for her portrayal of strong, confident Zula, even if she was a little crazy. The rest of the United States might be thanking her for single-handedly introducing ecstasy to the New York club scene in the 80’s, but I’m glad she showed tomgirls (and anyone, really) how to really go after what you want.

3. The Breakfast Club – People Do Stupid Things To Impress Other People

John Bender. My god, that would have been my ultimate man right there when I was in college. Brash, arrogant, dark eyed,  floppy-haired, he had it all.

He was also monstrously immature and at heart a frightened child, which would have been tailor-made for me and all my unarticulated neuroses 0f the time.

It was a simpler time, then.

But growing up and leaving behind a fascination with ‘bad boys’ is why I’m where I am today, and not on my third divorce or struggling with a serious habit instead of just being an unemployed drunk. Lesser of two evils, believe me.

Anyhoodle, there are multiple scenes in the film illustrating Bender’s attempts to impress ‘Princess’ Claire; in several conversations, after Claire has made some kind of declaration towards one thing or other (it’s okay if a guy’s a virgin, sex with someone you love is okay), the camera cuts to a quick reaction shot from Bender, showing how he is processing this new fact and how he will probably try to use it to his advantage–or against Claire when he decides to lash out at her, as he is prone to doing. Bender is a criminal, but he’s also, like most people his age, deeply invested in other people’s image of him, and manipulating that image is a full-time job. He shows off by mouthing off to the principal and to Andrew, the Wrestler, and bullying Brian the Brain until he notices she isn’t impressed by that.

Also, I’d like to submit the scene later in the film where Claire has snuck into the closet to see him as exceptionally hot. When she leans forward and kisses him on the neck, it’s a special moment–there’s a smash cut to the scene, and you can tell from the way they’re sitting it’s obvious that Bender was probably saying something ridiculous and posturing to impress her, and was caught off guard by the move. I love that scene, because it acknowledges that yes, women can be sexually assertive and the world won’t burn down, and also that deep down Bender has been wanting to be pursued– just a little.

So, thus armed with my iconoclastic notions of romance, I sallied forth and probably wreaked unspeakable harm on the boys I chased. I left roses on their desks (I still cringe at that one), wrote them inane notes, catered to their egos, even gave them presents. I can’t even imagine how embarrassing it must have been for them, especially the ones I fixated on for more than a few days.

Sorry guys, but hey, we all had crap to work out back in the day. But if the worst thing that happened to them in middle school was being treated to cookies or handed a flower by The Weird Girl, then that’s not too terrible a thing. Maybe a few of my ‘victims’ even look back fondly on those days

So I watched this; I dunno, it was all right Review: Suspect Zero

Anyway, the story unfolds like a well-creased grocery list that’s been living in your pocket for a few days. There are some great scenes, and Kingsley ultimately carries the weight of the film while Eckhardt, who is serviceable, takes the film to be Srs Bznss instead of a Se7en knockoff. Carrie-Anne Moss runs around and does–something, I don’t remember what she was there for. Something.

Every time I sit down to watch a movie, I am conscious of how long the film is, sometimes down to the minute. The reason is because unless I’m doing something else, those minutes are time out of my life I will never get back. Do I expect every film I see to be worth 106 minutes’ worth of my time here on earth? Nope. I watch some bullshit too–looking into my queueueu is looking into seething madness. Kurosawa’s Rashomon rubs shoulders with Beverly Hills Chihuahua. A BBC nature program about the different meteorological regions of China and their native wildlife sits next to Bogie and Bacall in The Big Sleep. Gremlins 2 brings me a different kind of delight from Who’s Harry Crumb?, but both still delight me.

The point I’m getting to with all this rambling is that every film is a gamble, and your time is at stake. Some gambles are major windfalls for the mind, and in some, the house wins.

In Suspect Zero, a crime thriller starring Aaron Eckhardt,  Ben Kingsley and Carrie-Ann Moss and directed by Elias Merhige (he was redoing his bathroom that year), the house definitely won.

So here's the poster. It's all right, I guess.

I do not hate this film. I do not think it was a waste of time, or that it should be fired into the sun or any other example of internet film critic hypobole. I just don’t get what happened.

I suspect that Merhige, while he made the film, was either excited to be making a Hollywood crime thriller or wrestling with a choking case of self-loathing because he was making a Hollywood crime thriller. There’s a strange vibe of self-doubt saturating the film that has nothign to do with the story; I can’t even describe it except that it’s there, and it’s palpable.

The story is at least passable: an FBI agent who’s been transferred to a lesser field office because of something in his past is tracking a series of murders he believes to be connected, despite the fact that there is nothing to connect them. It turns out he’s tracking a serial killer who targets other serial killers, and kills them in new and creative ways so there is no pattern–the idea being that the FBI will only catch onto a serial killer’s existence if there is a pattern. Say, a guy who sets fire to his victims and then hits them with a car. There’s a pattern, so the FBI acknowledges a serial killer is responsible.  If a guy gets his head bashed in behind a gas station, and another just gets shot, and another gets skinned to death or something, the assumption would be three different perpetrators.

The movie starts out well–Ben Kingsley sits down at a table across from a restaurant supply salesman at an isolated truckstop and begins telling the man all the gruesome things he does to people, then showing pictures. Kingsley is incapable of losing his dignity–probably because he is always self-aware of the caliber of what he’s appearing in, be it Gandhi or Bloodrayne. He also seems to be one of those fortunate people who never get tied to bad movies. If you say ‘there’s a new video game movie coming out and Uwe Boll is involved’ sphincters immediately clench and oceans of vitriol roar forth onto the internet. Say the same thing about Kingsley and you get ‘Huh. That might be good.’ The man is bulletproof. Probably because he has a sense of humor about himself, from his appearance on The Sopranos (“Heyyy, guys. . .”) to his audition for Michael Bay’s Transformers 3.

Anyway, the story unfolds like a well-creased grocery list that’s been living in your pocket for a few days. There are some great scenes, and Kingsley ultimately carries the weight of the film while Eckhardt, who is serviceable,  takes the film to be Srs Bznss instead of a Se7en knockoff. Carrie-Anne Moss runs around and does–something, I don’t remember what she was there for. Something.

If you’re just looking for something to watch and are more comfortable watching films with famous actors in them (I’m guilty of that–Oh! So and so’s in this, well I’ll give it a whirl!) then you could do worse than watching Suspect Zero.

Also it has this guy, who is awesome, so it has that going for it.

Suspect Zero is available for viewing on Instant Watch. You know, if you’re interested.