Suspect Zero is about serial killers, FBI agents trained to solve crimes telepathically, and a corona-like play of light behind Ben Kingsley's bald head that turns the actor's profile into the universal pictograph for psychological danger. But mostly, director E. Elias Merhige's art-house-style pulp thriller is about ornate, cinematic mood -- images that say: America is a place of lonely truck-stop diners and evil child-killers posing as average men.
I don't believe the message, least of all as Merhige obsessively paints it, in a rain-drenched genre study in which every character is photographed on a tilt, or in extreme close-up. Naturally, the scrawls produced by Kingsley as Benjamin O'Ryan (Killer? Rogue FBI agent? Crazy person? All three?) are eerily beautiful enough to hang in a SoHo art gallery. They always are in movies like this.
Merhige, who previously put his taste for German expressionism to exquisite use in ''Shadow of the Vampire,'' sets his modern-day bloodsuckers in Albuquerque, N.M., where Tom Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart, matching Kingsley scenery chew for chew), a verifiable fed, has been demoted for a plot bonus. Carrie-Anne Moss plays Tom's excessively gloomy partner. ''What a f---in' freak,'' she observes, delicately, in the script by Zak Penn (''X-2: X-Men United'') and Billy Ray (''Shattered Glass''), when the two uncover a lair strewn with O'Ryan's scrawls. The truth is, the freakiness kinda turns the director on, and he nearly strangles ''Suspect Zero'' with love.