by David Cornelius
Heartbreaking, terrifying, and utterly mesmerizing, “Suspension” is independent filmmaking at its jaw-dropping finest. Its makers have taken a familiar sci-fi premise - the power to stop time - and elevated it, building the sort of intelligent human drama that resides within the best genre work. They have crafted a series of visual effects that enhance, not merely replace, the story. They have created magnificent cinema. And they have done all of this on a tight budget, far removed from the Hollywood system.Filmed in late 2005 (with editing and effects work taking two more years to complete), “Suspension” is the brainchild of a Kansas-based filmmaking collective eager to share credits: Ethan Shaftel and Alec Joler directs, with a screenplay from producer Aris Blevins, based on a story by Shaftel; Joler is co-cinematographer, next to DP Ben Van Cleave; co-producer Kevin Obsatz is also the assistant director. But there’s never a sense of too-many-cooks. It’s a tightly constructed work.
"An indie masterwork straight outta Kansas."
Scott Cordes, a doughy actor with aw-shucks Midwest looks and a certain low-key charm, stars as Daniel, an everyman whose life shatters after a car crash kills his wife and teenage son. Something happened during the crash, something Daniel can’t quite explain: at the moment of impact, time stopped for him, if only for a moment. Or was he dreaming, experiencing a nightmare memory from a distance?
Daniel becomes unwilling to resume his life and takes to hiding in his suburban home. There, he fiddles with his son’s camcorder, hoping to repair it and, perhaps, view the footage taken during the crash. That’s when he discovers the camera’s powers: pause the recording, and time itself stops.
As he deals with this strange new power, Daniel also becomes obsessed with Sarah (Annie Tedesco), the young widow of the man who caused the crash. She’s struggling to make sense of the situation, and Daniels sees his chance to regain the sense of control he lost in the accident (or, perhaps, control he never had at all, considering his frumpy, timid demeanor) by helping her: replacing a torn sweater or broken dish, fixing a sink, that sort of thing.
It’s not long before Daniel’s quest becomes an obsession, and watch how the filmmakers slowly introduce the creepiness of the matter. In one scene, we see Daniel enjoying his daily newspaper (previously established as a comforting routine for him) while Sarah sits frozen next to him on her couch. Later, he makes himself at home on her bed, again reading the paper. It’s not sexual, not threatening, not dangerous, and yet… There’s something bone-chilling about the casualness with which Daniel ultimately treats his powers, and the subtle notion of an invader in the home is far more disturbing than a more overt horror scenario. (When Sarah thinks she saw Daniel in her room, she becomes afraid to even touch the bed.)
According to the press notes, visual effects shots count for a full third of the movie’s running time. And these images are very impressive, more so considering the budget; objects hang in the air, people halt mid-sentence, eyes jitter as if stuck between two frames of video. I mention this, however, not to praise the effects work (praiseworthy it is, of course), but to note with appreciation that the filmmakers never let the effects take over their movie. Think of how many films you’ve seen where the effects seem to be the only reason the thing got made in the first place. Compare that with “Suspension.” This is a film that uses effects gimmickry as punctuation, not text. Sure, there are several times in which the movie slows down and allows us to gasp in awe at the visuals, but we’re doing so right along with Daniel, who’s also experiencing these sights for the first time. As its characters become more aware of, and more comfortable with, the power, the filmmakers make the visuals less showy. Their main concern is Daniel and Sarah as genuine characters sharing an extraordinary experience.
As such, the script takes its time setting up its premise. Sure, there’s the early shot of the crash frozen in time, but this is treated merely as a teaser. The majority of the first act is mundane. Well, no, mundane isn’t the right word - there’s nothing mundane about the human drama that unfolds as Daniel and Sarah cross paths, each dealing with great loss. Without the time-stop gimmick, “Suspension” could have still turned out to be a riveting indie drama, with two powerful performances in two sharply crafted lead roles.
Equally impressive is how well the filmmakers and cast handle the multiple switches in tone that occur throughout the piece. The movie begins with somber drama, shifts to magical science fiction, and ends with terrifying suspense. Yet it flows wonderfully from point to point, always engaging the viewer, never missing a beat.Regretfully, “Suspension” received only a handful of festival screenings before landing a direct-to-video release - meaning that most people won’t have the chance to encounter such a marvelous, thrilling work. If any movie deserves a wider audience, it’s this one, fresh and inventive, captivating on so many levels. Here is a film that demands to not only be seen, but be celebrated.
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originally posted: 04/22/08 19:37:50