There have been a lot of serial killer films, but none about a killer that hunts other serial killers instead of innocent victims. “Suspect Zero” presents that scenario and manages a fine job of making a believable and chilling film. But while the film scores major points for originality and terrific performances, the execution does have some obvious flaws.
The term Suspect Zero refers to a serial killer with no behavioral patterns or discerning habits. Without these traits, the killer is essentially invisible to law enforcement, and without a way to link his random crimes back to him; theoretically the killer could go undetected indefinitely.
When disgraced FBI agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) is assigned to investigate the murder of a seemingly harmless salesman, he is sucked into a powerful vortex whose center is one Benjamin O’Ryan (Ben Kingsley). O’Ryan is a serial killer as well as a former — and highly intelligent — FBI agent. Only now O’Ryan is using his psychic abilities to exterminate serial killers. As Mackelway grows more frustrated with the justice system, will Benjamin recruit him as his replacement?
There are many actors that drift in and out of “Suspect Zero”, but only three make any impression. As Mackelway, Aaron Eckhart (“Paycheck”) nails the character, and you can feel his frustration as well as his grief whenever a victim is discovered. Eckhart also manages to master the small everyday nuances that make his character flesh and blood.
Carrie Anne-Moss may have been great in “The Matrix”, but she’s little more than eye candy and an undeveloped love interest here. She looks fabulous, but contributes little to the movie. She’s also dramatically overshadowed by Ben Kingsley (“Sexy Beast”), which is surprising since he has very little to do in the film. For much of the movie, Kingsley is relegated to the background; that is, until the finale, where Kingsley comes alive and shows us a tormented man unable to cope with his paranormal abilities. He’s not an evil man, just someone trying to cope with an extraordinary situation and help people. Kingsley is so good in the movie you will ask why we see so little of him.
Zak Penn, one of the writers on the upcoming “Elektra”, has an inventive take on a genre that’s become rather stale of late. Penn throws in Remote Viewing psychic experiments, paranormal abilities, and a wild concept to elevate “Suspect Zero” from the usual serial killer flick. His treatment of Mackelway and O’Ryan is also excellent, creating two well-developed and complex characters that share ability as well as destiny. His only failure is Anne-Moss’ Fran Kulok. Why is she there? Her character just interferes with the plot and serves little purpose.
“Suspect Zero” has a bleak and atmospheric feel to it, thanks to the able direction of E. Elias Merhige (“Shadow of the Vampire”). He keeps us on our toes with a few jolting false scares and an aura of mystery that permeates the film. Merhige also gives us a satisfying final confrontation between Mackelway and O’Ryan; not only is it fueled with adrenaline, but it’s charged with despair and regret, making for a complex way to conclude a story about two complex individuals.
Despite some problems, “Suspect Zero” is a good entry in a stale genre. Fans of crime movies, as well as thrillers, are sure to be drawn to the film like catnip. A word of caution: those upset by seeing small children killed or imperiled may want to find a tamer way to entertain themselves.
E. Elias Merhige (director) / Zak Penn, Billy Ray (screenplay)
CAST: Aaron Eckhart …. Thomas Mackelway
Ben Kingsley …. Benjamin O’Ryan
Carrie-Anne Moss …. Fran Kulok
Harry J. Len Nix …. Rich Charleton
Kevin Chamberlin …. Harold Speck