August 29, 2004|I entered into Suspect Zero saddled with some of the most venomous buzz for a picture since Catwoman; apparently a critic's screening somewhere in the wild Pacific Northwest had devolved into a hooting match. But I was hopeful, mainly because director E. Elias Merhige's first film, 1991's Begotten, is one of the bravest, most uncompromising experiments to come out of the American independent scene since Jonas Mekas. Silent, hallucinatory, deeply unsettling, it had the power to enrage and intoxicate in equal measure and did so, making no apologies about its debts to sources as highbrow and "pretentious" as Luis Buñuel and Carl Dreyer. (Seriously, in a time when our president is trying to turn "nuance" into a dirty word, who can blame the cattle calls of the brainwashed naysayer?) Begotten is a masterpiece and a Rorschach test in the way that the best experimental cinema can be: it has the conviction and kineticism of early Stan Brakhage--that is, if Brakhage had a background in William Blake instead of William Burroughs.