Film Length: 88 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 (enhanced for 16:9)
Audio: DD 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Wristcutters: A Love Story is a romantic comedy set in an afterlife specially reserved for suicides. There, those who killed themselves to escape life’s dreariness find themselves condemned to continue living much the same life, only drearier. No one smiles; the surroundings are colorless and dull; and everything is broken, run-down and crummy. As the narrator, Zia, explains, he’d kill himself again, except he’s afraid he’d end up somewhere worse.
Zia (Patrick Fugit from Almost Famous) is a recent arrival, having taken his life in despair over being dumped by the love of his life, Desiree (Leslie Bibb, currently in Iron Man). By day, Zia washes dishes at Kamikaze Pizza, and by night he hangs out with his friend Eugene (Shea Whigham), a Russian who lives with his family because they all committed suicide (it’s in their genes, he explains to Zia).
But one day, Zia learns that Desiree has also killed herself, and he persuades Eugene to help him search for her. On the road, they meet Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon, most recently of Moonlight), another recent arrival who insists she doesn’t belong there and is intent on finding the People in Charge (or “P.I.C.”) to rectify matters. Their road trip eventually brings them to Kneller (the great Tom Waits), who presides over a collection of misfits at an abandoned camp ground that is the site for random occurrences of magic. Nearby, a would-be messiah (Arrested Development’s Will Arnett) plans to demonstrate the permanence of the soul by publicly staging his own suicide – again. It’s here that Zia finally finds Desiree, only to realize that maybe she isn’t what he really wants after all.
Oh, did I mention the black hole under the passenger seat in Eugene’s car?
Adapted (very freely) from a short story by Israeli author Etgar Karet, Wristcutters is the first feature by Croatian-born writer-director Goran Dukic. It’s the kind of film that does well at festivals, gets acquired by a studio (in this case, Lionsgate), and then sits on a shelf because the studio can’t figure out how to sell it. Too strange for the mainstream, insufficiently “transgressive” for the hardcore art house crowd, it’s a film that marketers can’t pigeonhole. So they keep postponing the theatrical release, then dump it into a few theaters in major cities and finally send it to DVD.
And that’s too bad, because the film is a small gem and a promising debut. Dukic’s script was so good that it attracted a caliber of cast far beyond what the director and his producers ever expected. (Other familiar faces that pop up include Jake Busey and John Hawkes from Deadwood.) Because the actors are so talented, they’re able to bring off the casually deadpan delivery that Dukic’s script requires, and they’re a constant source of energy in a story that, in less capable hands, would have gone flat in the first 20 minutes. Wristcutters isn’t a comedy of belly laughs but of smiles at the absurd seriousness with which the main characters take trivial things. (The argument among Zia, Eugene and Mikal about who rides in the back seat is just one example of the quietly hilarious moments littered throughout the film.) And as aimless and shambling as the plot may seem to be, it turns out to have a clear direction and a definite conclusion, but you don’t realize it until you get there.
Deadpan humor is hard to get right and even harder to sustain. At 88 minutes, Wristcutters doesn’t overstay its welcome, and the deleted scenes provide insight into how carefully the film was crafted to maintain just the right tone. I don’t want to oversell the film; it’s a minor work, but a near-perfect one – and that’s no small feat.
Wristcutters is presented on DVD in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with 16:9 enhancement. The image looked somewhat brighter than the print I saw theatrically, but I attribute the difference to weaknesses in the theatrical projection. The imaginary afterlife in which most of the film takes place is meant to be visible and adequately lit, but the colors are desaturated, and the transfer adequately presents this appearance, which, as Dukic explains in the extras, was achieved digitally in post-production. In flashbacks to the “real world”, colors return with an obvious pop that highlights the contrast between the dull limbo of the afterworld and the colorful vitality of the life that came before. Blacks are reasonably solid, especially in the night scenes at Kneller’s camp. I did not see any obvious edge enhancement or digital noise reduction. This is a good transfer, especially given the budget limitations of the source material.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is mostly front-centered, reserving the surrounds for music, ambiance and the occasional sound effect. The musical selections are particularly interesting and an important part of the film – Dukic deliberately looked for selections by musicians who committed suicide – and the audio track presents them effectively. There is also a DD 2.0 track and a choice of English or Spanish subtitles.
Audio commentary: The commentary with writer-director Goran Dukic, actor Patrick Fugit, producer-actor Mikal Lazarev and producer Tatiana Kelly is one of the better group commentaries I’ve heard. There are no long pauses, and although some of the stories are inevitably trivial, there’s plenty of substance about the making of the film. Fugit talks extensively about working with the other actors, and Dukic notes the changes he made from the original story, including the source for some of the wilder departures, such as the black hole in Eugene’s car. The two producers tend to focus on logistical challenges.
Making the Final Cut: The Wristcutters Journey (8:19). This short “making of” featurette is much better than the usual studio EPK, because the participants provide genuine insight into the creative process of making the film. Of particular interest is early test footage attempting to create the desaturated look of the suicides’ afterlife through photochemical means rather than digital processing. It’s a tantalizing suggestion of how the film might have looked and a reminder that, for all its advantages, digital isn’t everything. (As Dukic explains, cost was the deciding factor.)
Deleted scenes (15:47). There are ten deleted scenes, which have been helpfully tagged with black-and-white beginnings and ends to show you where they would have fit into the film. While there is no commentary or other explanation for the deletions, most of them were obviously cut for tone or pacing. One scene, however, must have been a difficult decision, because it gives additional background on Mikal’s death (the one she says was mistakenly classified as a suicide) that many viewers might consider important. I suspect the filmmakers ultimately opted to leave Mikal as much of a mystery to the audience as she is to Zia.
Director’s Storybook Look-in (2:49). This presents a key sequence of the film overlaid with the director’s storyboards. Since the sequence comes near the end, this should not be viewed until after you’ve seen the film.
Patrick Fugit’s On-Set Photos. Self-explanatory.
Trailers. The Eye, Fearnet.com, Horror Fest 2007 and Fido.
In the end, Wristcutters isn’t really about suicide, in the same way that Dead Like Me wasn’t really about death. Stories about the next world are usually an attempt to take stock of this one from a radically different perspective, and Wristcutters is no exception. It’s trite but not inappropriate to say that, by the end of the film, Zia has learned something. I leave it to the viewer to decide what that is.
Release date: March 25, 2008