Film Review: ‘The Suicide Theory’

the-suicide-theory
Courtesy of Freestyle Releasing

Two strong lead performances distinguish this weirdly absorbing thriller about a hitman and his willing target.

“You’re lucky to be alive.” The words are repeated several times, with increasingly grim irony, in “The Suicide Theory,” a contrived but weirdly compelling thriller involving a tortured hitman, his willing prey, and the inexplicable curse that keeps them both from realizing their shared goal. Larded with bizarre twists, some more predictable than others, and full of unpleasantly suggested violence, Australian director Dru Brown’s sophomore feature (after his 2012 horror-thriller, “Sleeper”) is an oddball male weepie whose curious mixture of sweetness and sadism is well anchored by two solid, character-rich lead performances. Modest but respectable returns look likely in simultaneous theatrical and VOD release.

Steven Ray (Steve Mouzakis) is the sort of professional assassin who can be a terrifically friendly guy one minute and a vicious psychopath the next, as we observe firsthand in a prologue that rather too obviously introduces some intel that will pay off down the road. But before then, we see Steven in discussion with a prospective client named Percival (Leon Cain), who asks him to take out a most unexpected target: Percival himself. As assignments go, it’s harder than it looks. Percival has already tried to bump himself off numerous times with no success, sustaining more and more bodily damage with every attempt, yet somehow miraculously surviving each ordeal. And Steven’s inability to finish the job (even shooting Percival multiple times at point-blank range doesn’t do the trick) merely has the effect of deepening his own existential funk, as he wonders if it’s time to get out of the murder-for-hire business for good.

The darkly comic pleasure of “The Suicide Theory” is the bond that forms between predator and prey, as Steven develops a genuine liking for the sweet, undemanding guy who just wants to die already. In one of the more intriguing narrative developments, Percival reveals that his death wish stems from the loss of his boyfriend — and Steven, while not exactly a model of tact or tolerance when it comes to gay rights, winds up becoming Percival’s fiercest protector, especially when a gang of hostile homophobes enter the picture. The carnage that ensues is not particularly graphic, but it’s still brutal enough in its implications to make you recoil — which is arguably as it should be, lest we fall into the trap of finding Steven more sympathetic and cuddly than we should.

Michael J. Kospiah’s clever script begins to unravel in the second half, as it becomes clear that Steven and Percival have a few past experiences in common — at which point Brown’s film devolves into an overly tortured meditation on forgiveness, grief, retribution, and the grim inevitability of sowing what you reap. As puzzles go, this one is a bit too easy to solve, and in rather less time than it takes this solidly made, 96-minute movie to reach its dramatic terminus. That we can on some level perceive what’s coming doesn’t entirely diminish the emotional impact when it arrives, which is due almost entirely to the superb chemistry between Mouzakis and Cain, with Steven’s cold-blooded cynicism playing nicely off Percival’s earnest good nature. You may not entirely believe they’re bound by fate, but performances this expertly synced make it hard to protest too much.

Film Review: 'The Suicide Theory'

Reviewed online, Los Angeles, July 7, 2015. (In 2014 Dances With Films, Austin film festivals.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production

(Australia) A Freestyle Releasing (in U.S.) release. Produced by Dru Brown, Dan MacArthur, Christian McCarty, Jake McCarty, Melanie Poole. Executive producers, Darwin Brooks, Aaron McCarty, Jake Reedy, Waynne Videroni.

Crew

Directed by Dru Brown. Screenplay, Michael J. Kospiah. Camera (color, widescreen), Dan MacArthur; editor, Ahmad Halimi; music, Rolf Meyer; production designer, Melinda Dimond; sound, Skevos Mavros; sound designer, Ben Vlad; stunt coordinator, Darko Tuskan; line producer, Melanie Poole; associate producers, Jake Reedy, Darwin Brooks; second unit director, Tuskan; casting, Paulette Edser.

With

Steve Mouzakis, Leon Cain, Zoe de Plevitz, Sean Frazer, Christian McCarty, Matt Scully, Paul Geoghan, Todd Levi, Erin Connor, Mirko Grillini.
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  1. fubar says:

    that was gorgeous.

  2. RC says:

    I liked the film quite a bit. But I am confused:

    We know Christopher was killed by Steven–bludgeoned to death. Although Christopher and Percival seem an odd pair–a mild mannered man and a rude, ungainly man?

    1) Since Steven’s “handler” turns out to be a ghost (of his father?)–did Steven start contract killing after Annie’s death? Because we only see shadows of the people he’s killed after Annie’s death in the final scene.

    2) Was Christopher killed before or after Annie was killed? ie was Percival mourning the loss of his boyfriend when he got drunk and hit Annie?

    3) Is the painting really of “Christopher,”–Percival’s boyfriend? Or is it of Annie–the artist’s “light”/focal point after all is Annie’s button. And the painting looks more like Annie–especially after the close-up of her face in the final scene–than of Christopher.

    4) What is the deal with the guy in the bar over the license plate? Percival was driving the car that hit Annie–not this poor schlub.

    Pls post only helpful comments.

    Thank you

    • JF says:

      RC – I just watched the movie yesterday and I liked it quite a bit. It’s one of those movies that sticks with you… the ideas of fate or cause and effect, and how your negative actions to others can come back to you in ways that are unexpected.

      I’m no expert but I’ll give you my thoughts (warning: spoilers).

      1) It becomes clear to us at the end that Steven is not actually a real hit man. His “boss” is a figment of his imagination. It could be the imagined “ghost” of his father, that’s an interesting idea. But either way, it looks like Steven had a mental breakdown after Annie died. He was always an angry and violent person (we see him attack Christopher outside the store for basically no reason), but after his wife died something snapped inside him. I think that’s when he started believing that he was a hired hit man as a subconscious way to channel his anger and need for revenge (see point 4 below for more on that).

      2) Timeline of events goes as follows: Steven attacks and murders Christopher outside the store; Percival goes out drinking as he mourns the loss of Christopher; Percival drives home drunk and kills Annie; Steven’s mind snaps and he believes he is a professional hit man; Percival loses his will to live and he jumps off a building and lands on Steven’s cab; Percival learns that Steven is a “hit man” and he hires Steven to kill him because he believes he is unable to die.

      3) I was confused by the painting too. At the end I suppose it looked a little like Christopher, although only in an abstract way. But while Percival was working on it, it seemed to look more like Annie. Maybe that was done on purpose because those two losses were ultimately so intertwined, and those two deaths combined to result in Percival’s “curse”? So the resulting painting is a combination of both Christopher and Annie’s face? I don’t know, that might be reaching…

      4) I think the whole thing with the license plate numbers gives us the biggest insight on how Steven’s subconscious was dealing with Annie’s death and his need for revenge. We are led to believe that he is given his “targets” from his “boss” by way of a license plate number. We know this because he says to the guy in the bar, “and then your license number came up”. But at the end we realize that his “boss” was just a figment of his imagination, so the reality is that Steven was giving himself those license plate numbers.

      Steven said that he could only remember a few of the numbers in the license plate of the car that killed Annie. So, I believe that his “assignments” were the result of his subconscious mind going through all the possible license plate variations of the hit and run driver. He was systematically killing each of those people as if they were “targets” that he was “given” as a professional hit man.

      So his newest “target” was just some poor guy who happened to have a similar license plate number as the hit and run driver, just like all the other people that Steven has killed since Annie’s death. Ultimately we see him approach that guy at the bar, but by that point in the story Steven has had a change of heart and he no longer wants to kill people.

      I thought it was an intriguing movie with some very clever writing. I love stories that keep you thinking after the movie is over. Especially the last twist at the end where it leaves us with one final question. Was it a positive ending – that Steven was given another chance to live and redeem himself as a good person? Or do the final words of the doctor hint at something more ominous – that Steven is now “cursed” like Percival was? Interesting…

  3. Nice review Justin. I have watched “The suicide theory”, and i really like its concept. Thriller which is merged with the story makes a perfect match ans sense, and it brings curiosity. The role played by Steve is good but Leon Cain impresses me the most, his detailing in the character is much better. I am a kind of a guy who likes horror & thrillers, so I enjoyed the film a lot. Twists were exciting.

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