For their final show on the air, a local cable access program in Tampa, Florida showed a videotape that, for those who saw it, still haunts them some 17 years later. In this horrible, homemade news station snuff film, a dejected Pennsylvania politician is addressing a press conference full of reporters. After fidgeting with his papers and proclaiming his innocence, he pulls out a pistol. In front of the members of the fourth estate and the electronic world, he sticks the barrel into his mouth and pulls the trigger. The top of his head sprays in a fog of flesh and blood. Streams of grue pour from his mouth and nose. Eyes dead, body wilting under gravity's pull, the claret covered corpse slumps to the ground as witnesses wail and the distinct sounds of sickness fill the air.
The distraught man was none other than R. Budd Dwyer, the shamed and embattled State Treasurer who felt that the only way to prevent his incarceration and continued family shame was to end his life. This atrocity of accidental image capture has since become circulated as a Ring like video nasty, traveling the entire frat house circuit as a sick joke and seemingly seen by every college kid and high school slacker as some kind of totally insensitive Real Faces of Death tolerance test. It was even the inspiration for a rock song by the band Filter, the distastefully named "Hey Man, Nice Shot." So after seeing such a malevolent moment, with the reactions both physical and emotional, actual and not faked, any fictional attempt at capturing such carnage can only come up very, very short.
Playing under the title Final Cut.com in Germany and released by Troma as the much more appropriately monikered Suicide, this avant garde experiment in filmmaking takes an "is it real or not" Blair Witch approach to fright film. It begs the question "Are we actually witnessing death, or merely a slick moviemaking approach to self-destruction?" The answer, unfortunately, is obvious. Skillful, but obvious.
An unnamed couple travel around Germany filming people who want to commit suicide on camera. Initially stumbling upon these desperate individuals and their deplorable acts, they soon start advertising on their website for people willing to kill themselves for the camcorder. The response is surprising and every person they meet has a perplexing, emotional story for wanting to end it all. One man is dying of terminal cancer. Another wants to meet his lord and Master - Satan - up close and personal. A few are just lost. Others express regret to a life unfulfilled or a dark sense of loneliness that leads them ever onward toward the abyss of non-existence. Of course, there are those who chicken out when the time comes and even a couple who cry out for help or assistance. But slowly, a new type of termination temperament takes hold. The celebrity (Internet exposure) and financial gain (they sometimes pay their "participants") they can get from ending it all motivates many. But soon death overwhelms the couple. The woman becomes fixated on cheaper and gorier thrills. The man starts to interact with the "stars" of his short films. But one act will divide the couple forever, moving them beyond the brink of observers and into a far more ethically questionable realm.
Suicide is a hard movie to get a handle on. It's provocative premise mixed with a cinema vérité style means that this is a movie that rests solely on the success of its ideas and images. And yet what we have here is basically a character study, a look at over a dozen people and why they desire to end their life. Many have monologues that reveal their feelings, while others let gaunt faces and internal misery express their truly tormented nature. It's safe to say that when Suicide works, it is as harrowing and hard hitting as anything to rise up out of the post-Blair Witch DIY horror mentality. But there are political and anarchic elements to this movie that keep it from really clicking as a creep fest. Perhaps it's how sad some of these individuals portrayed are. Maybe it's the distance we feel from the main protagonists in the film. There is very little linear plot development, just tonal shifts and metaphysical movements in ethics and principles. And, sometimes, the first person POV style can strip away all mood and atmosphere to become just an observational device without any real inherit cinematic qualities. Still, Suicide cannot be dismissed entirely. It is a movie packed with problems and profound issues, marred by an occasional case of outright self-awareness.
It's easy to envision this movie as a diatribe on our entire "record and playback" beliefs of social privacy. In this America's Funniest Home Videos/Live at Five/Caught on Tape topography, humans are only entitled to keep secret what the camera can't find. The personal camcorder has become an extension of our own out of control Id, a chance to place ourselves into the mass marketed world of media entertainment that we swallow heartily like junk culture junkies. This is the idea that The Blair Witch Project milked so effectively – this movie within a movie within a real life scenario charade. Other films have tried to mimic this "you are there" symbiosis between the subject and its chronicler, with scenarios as divergent as inner city gang activity (GangTapes) and serial killing (Man Bites Dog). But the big problem with using such a convoluted convention to get your point across is that, sometimes, the style completely overwhelms the statement. In Suicide, there is a sense that the entire critical comment on this passion for eavesdropping is lost in the sensationalism of the subject matter. One has to admit that the notion of witnessing "real" death on film is both frightening and fascinating. When our people take their place before the lens and begin the act of "dying", the fact that we are watching it almost becomes moot. No matter our voyeuristic intentions, we instantly throw up a wall of defense against the act we are about to view. Such a psychological barrier keeps Suicide from connecting as a work of motion picture persuasion.
But there is also an undercurrent of death's dehumanizing property, both to its victim and its viewer, that also turns our aesthetic. With the first couple of suicides, we anticipate an unholy, blasphemous peek into a world of self-destruction few have ever contemplated. Such a sense of suspense and surreal shock makes the initial moments of Suicide spellbinding. But eventually we too find ourselves growing disconnected and bored (like the anonymous cameraman) with the inflated opinion that these individuals have for themselves and their selfish "sacrifice". By the time we watch a drug addict hand over a small wad of cash to his incoherent girlfriend and walk to an abandoned park to deliver a hot load to his penis, events have gone from frightening to foolish. Squalid has turned into strident and we no longer feel the same sense of unease. It's as if the movie has moved beyond us and tapped directly into some universal concept of transience. The 'how' replaces the 'why' and the 'who' is no longer important. Suicide wants to talk openly about pain and suffering, vitality and victimization. But it never quite finds the pitch or the voice to sell its slogans.
But the most disturbing idea in Suicide is, perhaps, the fact that insatiable bloodlust is its own intoxicating substance, able to control and condemn us all as readily as drink or dope. We see it in the eyes of the main characters as they react to the situations they've recorded. We catch it in the minimal snippets of dialogue between the two: "this is getting dull"; "do we have any good ones?"; "I want something with more blood". And finally, we experience it right along with them as shameful spectators. It is an interesting ideal that the filmmakers of Suicide foster, one that has to have been part of the original design of the experience. By tempting us with the forbidden and then tapping into our own primal prerogatives, a kind of self-slasher flick unfolds. We wait for the next death and hope that it surpasses the previous one. We are elated when it's painful, gruesome or outrageous. We become bored when it's safe, silent or sanctimonious.
And then the turn occurs, one that is played out by the main characters in the film just as it is happening in us. We want to hurry the process, to speed up the speeches and disregard the morals. We WANNA SEE PEOPLE DIE...in as hideous of ways as possible. This can be the only explanation for why Suicide fucks with our mind so potently. The movie cannot tell a story, since it doesn't even play within those constraints. So it must be asking us to look within our own black hearts to see what kind of crass fluid pumps there. Such a redolent Rorschach test is one of the results of watching this collection of cadavers in the making. It may make you uncomfortable or merely confirm what you already understand about your very own nature. But one thing is for sure; Suicide makes you contemplate your own issues about life, death and self-destruction.
As an actual piece of cinema, Suicide does have it atmospheric movie moments. The opening ascent up a flight of stairs (and eventual chase through some corridors) has an excellent atmosphere of dread. When the cameraman answers the pleas of a pedophile to help him end his horrible existence, the exchange (and the exquisite lakeside locale) really creates a creepy mood. Even the events near the end, when our filmmaker forces the hand of a hesitant homeowner, is everything this movie should have been. But there are also moments of unbridled tedium, of teenage girls drinking vodka, popping sleeping pills, and vomiting torrents of blasé bile in what feels like hours of complete silence. We also meet individuals who have mistaken a death wish with the right to be annoying, or irritating. Some of the sequences are highly underdeveloped. Others feel like outtakes from a gloomy one-act play. Since there is no real dramatic arc to the film, no single storyline or character leading us through, what we end up with are a series of vignettes whose success as a film are directly linked to their accomplishment as individual stories. With a ratio of about 2 to 1, this means Suicide is only remarkable 2/3rds of the time. But because those sequences are so solid, the missteps are easily forgiven, if not fully forgivable.
The result is a film that takes some getting used to. It has its own rhythms and idiosyncrasies and cannot always guarantee a good or even coherent time. But still the draw of death keeps us connected to the scenes, and the sick desire to witness another "actual" atrocity creates waves of weird, indescribable suspense. This may suggest Suicide is some horrifying glimpse into taboo terror. Sadly, this is not the case. Nor is it just a silly student film filled with the regular massacre movie ideal of one-upping the carnage that came before. Suicide wants to talk about real people in the act of ultimately escaping from reality. It wants to reward and revile those who would openly witness and record such senseless loss of life. And it asks us to examine our own ideas about morality and murder. True, it does touch on the ideas of death with dignity and assisted suicide. And it can occasionally offer a look at the world that is far bleaker than imagined (after all, are there really dozens of people in any populace ready to off themselves at the drop of a webpage?). As a work of cinematic sensation, Suicide comes up short. But on the level of moviemaking performance art, as much a comment about us as the individuals involved, this import is intriguing.
Crafted on digital cameras and presented in a 1.33:1 full screen image, Suicide looks incredibly authentic. If any professional filmmaking tricks were used (and you have to believe they were) they meld brilliantly into the homemade mood. The colors are bright and clear and the darks are deep and defect free. There are a couple of instances where the scenes are recorded in an atmosphere far too dim to capture the individuals or their action in absolute clarity. But these moments are minor compared to the overall excellence of the print.
Again, in keeping with the spur of the moment mentality of the moviemaking, the audio is all over the map. Even when mastered in Dolby Digital Stereo, there are still several sonic shortcomings. Sometimes the sound rings like a bell. Other times, it's as muffled as a voice from beyond the grave. Certain scenes can be heard without issue. Other sequences have aural aspects so half-assed it becomes annoying. If you can take the good with the awful, then you'll have no big problem with Suicide's sound. But those who look for consistency will have a conniption.
Troma really piles on the DVD presents with this release. Lloyd Kaufman's usual insane antics as movie introduction are quite tempered here. As he wanders through a 9/11 film festival in Kosovo, he spends more time discussing our current post-terrorism society than addressing the movie. And if you ignore all direct merchandising goodies – the music videos for the likes of Purple Pam and the Lunachicks, the trailers, a virtual tour of Troma's studios (which act as nothing more than a clip fest from their catalog) and several other sick and twisted delights (the Troma's Edge TV PSA's are priceless), the pickings are rather slim for the movie-oriented extras. We are treated to three deleted scenes from the movie and each one has its own exclusionary issues. The first sequence is a taped confession from our cameraman, who we learn is director Raoul Heinrich. Next, we are treated to a non-translated scene of a teenager trying to pay our videographer to tape her death. The final segment features an overbearing rock star who rambles on (in his native, undecipherable tongue of course) before apparently backing 0ut of his plan.
We are also given a full-length commentary track that illuminates many issues in the film. Done by a German organization (or is it a convention) calling themselves Weekend of Fear and featuring two German commentators whose names we never learn (there is some garbled identification given at the end) what we get is a very strange alternate track experience. Our movie guides insist on constantly questioning the film's "fictional" elements, arguing that certain sequences could not be faked and therefore, most of Suicide is absolutely true. They also hint that director Heinrich is dead and that the events depicted in the film explain how it happened. Now, this is either the biggest ruse since the cast of the Blair Witch was listed as "missing, presumed dead" on the Internet Movie Database, or the best job of harrowing hype ever committed to commentary. These guys are very sincere and their concerns and awkwardness sound genuine. Every once in a while, they break the mode of shock and dismay to highlight some interesting tidbits about the film (it was supposedly "discovered" by Nekromantik creator Jörg Buttgereit and is currently banned outright in its native country) or comment on how "wrong" the message of the movie really is (i.e. an instructional manual for possible ways toward self-destruction). But overall, they sit in awe and anger over what they are observing on the screen, mimicking with undue clarity the emotions of the home audience who is watching as well.
Suicide as a subject is a fraught with dramatic potholes. After the shock wears off and the tragedy of what has occurred finally sinks in, a whole array of emotions come forth. There is sadness, pity, sickness and alarm. Suicide, as a movie, doesn't trade in such sentiments. It's all about the daring of staring death in the face, about the severed sense we have for our fellow man and the overwhelming isolation of individuals from the modern world. In 2004, all emotion has been drained from our culture with only the fear of and about dying taking its place. We tempt it through extreme sports and reward it on reality based television programs. We overreact when it happens to children and turn our backs in disinterest when our ideological enemies suffer such a similar infant-oriented fate. As an exploration of insane obsession, this foreign exploitative film enlightens as it exaggerates. But as anything other than an experiment, it fails all filmic tests. Absent a single straight storyline, a sense of character or personality and restricted by its voluntary vignette format, it can only be viewed as some manner of lunatic litmus test. How you react to this movie may indicate something about your soul, or lack thereof, and in the end this may be what Suicide is all about. Troma occasionally hits a home run when they release heretofore unknown films (Superstarlet A.D., Viral Assassins) and they have another freakish feather to add to their oddball cap with Suicide. It is far from perfect. But for how it challenges you on a human level more than makes up for its faults.
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