“Suture” is an exceedingly smart and elegant American indie in an unusual vein. Part mystery thriller, part psychological investigation and part avant-garde experiment, first feature from the team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel will be a fest favorite and put them on the map as filmmakers. An adventurous distrib should be able to situate this nicely in specialized slots, but pic’s chilliness and formalism will make it an unlikely bet for commercial breakout.
The young writer-directors, both of whom have advanced college degrees, are upfront about their influences here, citing the striking but rarely discussed 1960s psychological suspensers “Seconds” and “Mirage,” as well as the more familiar work of Hitchcock and Hiroshi Teshigahara. Focusing on a strange case of amnesia prompted by an attempted murder, pic takes an analytical, clinical look at the issues of memory, identity and personality. Stylistic strategies make it more a rarefied art film than a mainstream thriller.
A brilliant, attention-getting opening tersely presents the lead-up to a dramatic confrontation between a white intruder and a black man hiding with a shotgun, all to the disorienting accompaniment of narration concerning memory and amnesia.
Suddenly jumping back in time, the narrative introduces Vincent Towers (Michael Harris), a wealthy, cold white man living in an opulent home in Phoenix. Vincent has initiated a reunion with his half-brother Clay Arlington (Dennis Haysbert), whom he hasn’t seen in years, and both men comment upon their remarkable physical resemblance. The surreal joke here is that Clay is black.
Vincent plots to blow up his own car with Clay in it, and assume a new identity after having planted his own papers with Clay. Clay survives the explosion but must undergo long hospitalization for a program of plastic surgery and treatment for his amnesia. Naturally, he is assumed by his shrink (Sab Shimono) to be Vincent and is fed images and memories of the other man.
Remainder of the film has a cool fascination, as Clay attempts to rebuild his memory from scraps of assorted evidence and to figure out what happened to him and seek revenge.
What will impress discerning viewers most is the style. Greg Gardiner’s almost glowing black-and-white images of the already parched Arizona locations and blank hospital settings create a bleached, semi-hallucinatory look that is astutely linked to the subject matter. Filmmakers have drawn upon some experimental film techniques in their unusual editing and sound work, and pic’s physical qualities are distinctive in all respects.
Performances are functionally low-key. Steven Soderbergh came aboard as exec producer after lensing was completed to help navigate the film through post-production.