Suspended Animation (2003)
Director: John D. Hancock
After a messed up run-in with two cannibal sisters (Esterman and Allen) who wanted his ass for munch, top-dog Hollywood animator Tom (McArthur) finds himself obsessed with the ordeal and goes on to explore the sisters’ family tree. He uses what he finds as a muse for his new animated feature film, but eventually gets more than he bargained for. He should’ve stayed home and watched the game instead of playing Agatha Christie.
After putting out the cult classic “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death" (1981) and tackling some Twilight Zone episodes in the 80’s, director John D. Hancock left the genre to direct films the likes of “Bang the Drum Slowly” and “Prancer”. The man finally returns to horror in fine form with this loop-the-loop horror/thriller called “Suspended Animation”.
This unpredictable and emotionally charged trip was an oddly structured film. For a while, I wasn’t sure if I was loving it because of that or being put off by it. In the end though, I figured my shite out and came up with: I LOVED IT and so respected its against-the-norm nature. The story itself started off like a double-whammy of Stephen King’s "Misery" and then took a completely unorthodox direction that definitely kept me on my toe nails. I just didn’t know where this psycho gal was going! Thankfully, as it was leading me through its darkened corridor, it managed to play against conventions, touch me on a human level (the drama here is well played out), snag me with its suspense (I felt anxious more than once), beat me senseless with its surprises and appall me with its random moments of brutality. There’s some ugly things going on in this movie and its not ghosts, goblins, Leonard Maltin or the Smurfs doing the nasty…it's the human condition at its worst.
On top of the film’s twisty and bleak nature, the fine actors were the next Double Ds in the house. Not only were most of the characters tainted in a shade of grey (I love layers and ambivalence), but the actors behind them simply owned! Stage actress Laura Esterman (Vanessa) gave a marvelous show that had me by the nose. She was simply mesmerizing! But I have to give top mention to the ever underrated and “not famous enough” Alex McArthur as Tom. McArthur carved a name for himself in William Friedkin’s serial killer jamboree "Rampage" to basically go on to do small roles in big movies ("Kiss the Girls") and star in various B-efforts ("Route 666"). In my opinion, he never got the respect that he deserved. McArthur was the point of focus of this flick, if he would’ve faltered via his performance, everything else would’ve gone down the toilet with him. The man had a lot to carry on his shoulders and he nailed every damn scene admirably. He had me on his side the whole way, even when his character’s actions were questionable. GREAT WORK MUCHACHO!
On the downside, since the film is fairly low budgeted ($2 million), some of the blue screen and CGI was obvious during the snowmobile sequences. But I let that go. The film’s worst flaw though was that it had so much going on at the same time within its characters that some of the subplots felt rushed while others weren’t given enough attention. For example, Alex’s relationship with his wife (played by Rebecca Harrell) never went past the surface therefore lessening the impact of the more horrific scenes that came about involving the dame. But the biggest boo-boo was the Clara (Cina) and Sandor (Meyers) side of the coin and every plot turn that came with it. What went down there was pretty heavy stuff that affected me, but it would’ve murdered my bootie to RIP hell even more if what precluded the nastiness didn’t feel so rushed. We needed more time with them to let it all sink in before capping it all off. But that’s just me talking...what the hell do I know?
On the whole, "Suspended Animation" was a well directed (loved the animation bits and the snow mobile chase), pleasantly character driven and nasty little horror film that wasn't afraid to explore the darker corners of human nature fervently. Sick of the same whole generic garbage being shoved down your throat? Animate this and be taken for quite the bumpy ride!
We get the goods in adequate servings with human remains, a cut off finger, a severed penis in a jar (that’s just so wrong), gun shot wounds, a scalpel in the neck and blood splashes filling the screen.
Alex McArthur (Alex) was rock solid as the director battling his demons his own way. He was intense, focused and endearing. Laura Esterman (Vanessa) often stole scenes as the psycho loony, managing to layer her character and actually evoke sympathy. Marina Cina (Clara) also nailed her role with wooing vulnerability while crying on cue like nobody’s business. Fred Meyers (Sandor) must have done his job well as the despicable zit-popping, evil teenager because every time I saw him on-screen, I wanted to order him to put his teeth on a sidewalk curb to then bash his head in with my foot. Sage Allen (Ann) channeled Kathy Bates’ spirit as the other nutso sister and gave a credible "Misery"-like performance. Rebecca Harrell (Hilary) did what she could with the leftovers that she was given.
T & A
Marina Cina (Clara) reveals her breasts, but the context is far from arousing. The ladies get NATHING!
Hancock knew when to underplay and overplay it with his visuals. Since this is a character-driven story first, he took at a step back and never distracted me with flashy camera work. Having said that, he still put out some kool shots, evoked a morbid atmosphere and generated the appropriate amount of tension. Good stuff!
David Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti provided the score for the film and just like his other works, backed up the images perfectly. Man, this guy is good!
"Suspended Animation" had a lot of substance within its intricate plot and maybe even a bit too much for its own good. It’s definitely not a flick for audiences who usually don’t dare tackle something that doesn’t star a WB whore. I personally really enjoyed being suspended by this one. It had me hooked on the line the whole way and kept me there with its grim tone, unique storyline, daring plot turns and all around kick-ass performances. Welcome back to the genre game, Mr. Hancock! Nice to see ya again bubba!
"Suspended Animation" is set to get a limited theatrical release on Halloween 2003.
Alex McArthur was the guy who played the “Gino” boyfriend in Madonna’s "Papa Don't Preach" music video.
The flick was shot on digital video with HD cameras and then transferred to film.
Screenwriter Dorothy Tristan is director John Hancock's wife.
Rebecca Harrell, 21, who was the eight-year old star in Hancock’s children’s classic “Prancer”, played the wife here.