LYT's Film Pick of the Weekend 11-2-07

This week's pick is a no-brainer. It's WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY.

I don't think the movie has been promoted correctly -- I haven't seen any trailers, just those annoying li'l wraparound things on the OC Weekly papers. You may have been misled. I caught this movie at AFI Fest last year, when it had no distribution, and fell in love (but didn't cut my wrists). My original review follows below:

WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY is the next great American cult movie. At least, it should be; I've been wrong about such things before. I thought BRICK would take off even more than it did, and maybe it still will in years to come, but perhaps I can be more objective about WRISTCUTTERS since I don't know anyone involved with it.

You just can't go wrong with teenage suicide, road trips, and Tom Waits. You can go wrong with weird-ass cultish road trips in postapocalyptic surroundings, though -- WRISTCUTTERS recalls both SIX-STRING SAMURAI and BEACH PARTY AT THE THRESHOLD OF HELL, only it isn't pretentious crap. Although some will think it is.

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Depressed teen Zia (Patrick Fugit) tidies up his messy apartment and then slashes his wrists. He awakens in an afterlife just for suicides, which he notes is kind of like the real world but it sucks a little more. There are no stars, everything is gray, it's physically impossible to smile, every building looks like the most run-down roadside gas station you've ever seen on a cross-country trip, and the only music on the radio is by bands whose singers killed themselves.

(Oddly, one of the shots, perhaps by accident, captures a billboard for radio shock jock Mancow. Are they implying that he has committed suicide, or just that he sucks?)

You still have to make a living in the afterlife, so Zia works at a pizza place, where he befriends a Russian drunk named Eugene (Shea Wigham) whose entire family committed suicide, one after the other, so he still lives with them. Eugene's particular chosen method of death was to pour beer on his electric guitar during a live performance.

Zia killed himself over a girlfriend (blonde bombshell Leslie Bibb), but when he finds out that she too committed suicide a month later, he sets out to find her. Persuading Eugene to come along because there's nothing better to do, they set off in Eugene's broken down car with non-working headlights and a black hole vortex under the passenger seat. Across a barren landscape, without any specific direction, they also encounter Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon) who's on a quest to find the People In Charge, since she claims not to have killed herself and thinks she's there by mistake. Eventually Tom Waits comes into play and things take a different turn, but I'm not going to spoil that for you.

Director Goran Dukic, working from a short story, creates a great, fully-realized world on a low budget, and never cops out as you think he might. Most genre movies that sustain a mystery tend to deflate once the mystery is revealed, but this keeps it strange. There's a hint of LOST to it -- characters in a strange place, with occasional flashbacks to their "real" lives (nothing huge; mostly just revealing all their deaths), and the dilemma faced by Zia when he finally finds his dead girlfriend is palpable and believable. And just wait till you see what trains look like in the afterlife.


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