STUDIO: Alternative Cinema
MSRP: $29.99
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
• Feature Commentary
• Bonus Disc: Phoenix

The Pitch

“Imagine if the animated corpse of Charlie Chaplin were a teenage prostitute!”

The Humans

Wendy McColm, mostly, though “human” is a bit optimistic.

The Nutshell

McColm plays a downtrodden girl so thoroughly crushed by her circumstances that, from frame one, it’s apparent she’s not long for this world. The thousands of frames after that give exactly the same impression. Then the end happens.

The first five minutes.

The Lowdown

If you were to come up to me on the street and ask me how I supposed the quality of life for teenage prostitutes must be, I would answer: “I bet they have crappy lives.” Then you could go on your merry way, and I would feel bad for a little while, and maybe see about donating to a charity for sex workers. And it would have only taken a few seconds.

Tony Marsiglia’s aimless shamble through the last few days of Suzie Heartless’ life accomplishes exactly the same thing, only instead of taking a few seconds, it clocks in at ninety minutes. That’s a long time to hammer on a single nail.

There will be no lols for this kitty.

My comparison isn’t a perfect one, because a conversation on the street is not art, but I like to think that economy of expression is an admirable trait in an artist. In a single-purposed film like Suzie Heartless, the length should be appropriate to the degree of nuance present in the characters and situations; minutes should not be wasted on repetition.  Instead of submerging the audience in the depths of whatever emotion we’re meant to be sympathetic to, a monotone presentation like this one becomes annoying, or worse: white noise.

I can’t imagine that was the director’s intent. Perhaps Suzie Heartless should be viewed as a relentless assault on the audience? A ball of steel wool drug across our nerves until we’re wounded and made vulnerable? The repetition of situations without any deformation of the characters or the world makes me suspicious this might be the case. The story refuses to budge, so if there’s any movement it has to come from the audience. That transforms Suzie Heartless from a dull film into a demanding one, and I’m sure I could argue from that side of the aisle if I didn’t think the demands were without adequate compensation.

“Your money and your life!” is a shitty deal.

Wendy wins the glassy-eyed stare competition, hands down.

Much of these criticisms come against Marsiglia’s choices as a director. I’ve got a few more in that vein: the lack of dialogue exposes itself as unnatural in a few key scenes; the sound design fills every scene with an unwelcome artificiality; the cross-cutting between black-and-white and color, and the use of extreme camera angles, shatters the mood of all but the most violent scenes. Artistic decisions all, but delivered so overtly as to call more attention to themselves than to any unity of expression.

I need to clarify that I actually admire quite a bit of what Marsiglia attempts in Suzie Heartless; it’s just that all these decisions in tension with one another produce a confusion that goes well beyond expressing Suzie’s internal state. The narrative shows plenty of restraint — to the point of catatonia — but the artistic routes taken all lead to excess.

Either that or Suzie Heartless is one of the saddest zombie stories ever put on screen.

An excess of yellow bile?

The Package

There’s a feature commentary, but the disc I received to review had been damaged at some point in transit and the track refused to play on several different players. I apologize for this omission.

Also included is a second disc, containing Marsiglia’s first feature film Phoenix. is more of a direct, unabashed exploitation film, though it carries an aesthetic of confusion similar to that of Suzie Heartless. If Suzie Heartless is a tragedy parade, then Phoenix is an ambiguity carnival.

Phoenix only contributes slightly to my final score, which, let me tell you, I have had some difficulty assigning. In the end, I’m going to go with:

4 out of 10