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Suspect Zero is a psychological thriller directed by E. Elias Merhige, starring Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, and Carrie-Ann Moss. The film was released in the United States in 2004 by Paramount Pictures.
Thomas Mackelway (Eckhart), a formerly decorated agent who operated out of the Dallas regional division of the FBI, has stirred up controversy by ignoring extradition law in order to bring a suspected serial killer back from Mexico to stand trial... in the process both losing his position and handing the killer an acquittal. Months later, Agent Mackelway has been "sent to the minors" by being transferred to a quiet division in New Mexico. The quiet doesn't last long, as on the day he arrives, he receives a strange fax consisting of several missing persons files. Before he can determine what the fax means or who sent it, he is called out on his first case since his transfer. A salesman from southern New Mexico has been murdered and his body left directly on the state border, placing the case under federal jurisdiction. A quick glance at the victim's body reveals that this is far more than a robbery-homicide... as after he was stabbed to death, the killer took the time to remove one of the victim's eye-lids.
As the investigation continues and more bodies are discovered, each missing an eyelid and left with a small piece of paper on which only the number zero is drawn, it quickly becomes apparent that the FBI has a serial killer on their hands. With each new victim, more and more faxes addressed to Mackelway are received at headquarters, not only revealing further missing persons, but also information about the recent murders, newspaper articles detailing Mackelway's past work... and, chillingly, hand-drawn images depicting Placeholder as he investigated a crime scene mere hours before. Agent Mackelway soon realizes that the faxes are being sent by the killer, a man identifying himself as "O'Ryan" (Kingsley.) Together with Agent Fran Kulok (Moss), his former partner from the Texas branch, Mackelway vows to find O'Ryan and put a stop to the killings once and for all... but first, he must figure out why O'Ryan is so obsessed with his past, and what the serial killer truly hopes to accomplish in taunting Mackelway to solve the case.
This work contains examples of:
- Creator Killer: E. Elias Merhige seemed to disappear completely from the industry after filming this. He has not been heard from since.
- Detective Drama
- Dies Wide Open: O'Ryan's victims are all found with at least one eye open. Of course, they had help with that since their killer removed their eyelid.
- I Am Not Shazam: The phrase/name "Suspect Zero" used by O'Ryan throughout the movie does not refer to himself as a Serial Killer. It refers to O'Ryan's theory of a super-competant serial killer who can move across the country killing hundreds of victims without leaving any pattern or being detected by authorities. Although as Mackelway points out once this is clarified, this doesn't rule out the possibility that O'Ryan could be Suspect Zero himself... He isn't. Suspect Zero is an ice cream courier who kidnaps children, puts them in his freezer truck, tortures them at his home, and buries them in the backyard. Between his other victims, O'Ryan spends most of the movie trying to catch him, and the faxes he sends to Mackelway are the cases of these missing children.
- If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him: O'Ryan ultimately wishes to drive Mackelway to kill him, in an effort to force Mackelway down the path to taking over his mission as a Serial Killer Killer.
- Jurisdiction Friction: Purposefully averted by O'Ryan, who left the body of the first victim the FBI found exactly on the state line in order to make the case fit directly under their jurisdiction.
- Knife Nut: A long dagger is seemingly O'Ryan's weapon of choice.
- The Killer Becomes the Killed: Both for O'Ryan and his chosen victims.
- Mad Oracle: Long term use of the remote viewing abilities O'Ryan's former unit is said to have possessed, combined with the lack of an "off" switch for the abilities themselves, is shown to lead to severe mental breakdowns. Many among the unit eventually were driven to suicide, or suffered psychotic breaks.
- Psychic Powers: O'Ryan claims he was trained by the FBI to perform "remote viewing", a method to link his mind with his future victims to see what they see. This is how he determines who his next victims will be and where to find them. It is later revealed that Mackelway has "the gift" as well.
- Title Drop: Throughout O'Ryan's cryptic communications, "Suspect Zero" is often mentioned. Mackelway believes that O'Ryan is referring to himself, and his conclusion is reinforced by the walls and floors of the former killer's home being covered in the same 0 symbols that were left behind at the initial crime scenes.
- Waking Up Elsewhere: After O'Ryan ambushes Mackelway at a county fair, he wakes up some time later bound on the floor of the killer's apartment, where a smiling O'Ryan casually threatens to torture him to death.
The following tropes are inherent spoilers. Read at your own risk!
- Serial Killer Killer: O'Ryan chooses his victims because they are themselves serial killers, which he learns through his remote viewing ability. His quest in life is to find Suspect Zero, who he believes has killed hundreds of victims all across the country without being detected.