Suicide just makes things worse.
Zia (Patrick Fugit) killed himself because his girlfriend left him. Eugene (Shea Whigham) killed himself because he was sick of being a laughingstock. When Zia discovers that his ex-girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb) also killed herself, he gets Eugene to go on a road trip to find her.
On the road they pick up another dead person, the brassy Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon). Did I mention that the world they all live in is made up of people who commited suicide? Trapped in a reality that’s a bit worse than the previous one, like a lower-class Hell where the main difference is people are physically unable to smile….
Zia is a person who ambles through life with no plan, focus, or real future; when he kills himself it’s not really much of a surprise and it really doesn’t change his life much. After spending some time feeling sorry for himself and dealing with his Austrian roommate Erik (Abraham Benrubi), he finds a friend in Eugene and purpose in finding his lost love, Desiree. As the two of them cross the blasted countryside in Eugene’s comically screwed-up car, Zia learns some stuff. When he gets to the cult compound and finally is reunited with Desiree, he realizes that she’s not what he wants anymore because she’s become nothing more than a minion to the deranged Messiah King (Will Arnett). The road is a place where he discovers that life is worth living and obsessively loving someone who doesn’t love him back isn’t healthy. Actually, it reminds me ofexcept, as an added bonus, it’s 100% Melanie Griffith free! Zia ultimately manages to get sent back to life to be with Mikal.
Eugene has the fortune / misfortune of descending from a family of suicide-prone people, so he still lives with his family in the great Russian style. Eugene is what most people would consider a “douche bag” or “major jackass” or “math teacher”, but when you get to know him you find he just lacks tact and has very little concern for the feelings of others. Definitely a math teacher. Eugene acts as the comic relief of the journey, though his humor, like some members of the mamba family – snakes, not dance – is very dark, biting, and venomous. When Eugene gets to Kneller’s (Tom Waits) camp of weirdos, he meats the mute Inuit Nanuk (Mikal P. Lazarev) who charms him with her throat-singing. Since she’s so far removed from Eugene’s world, she doesn’t realize how crumby he is and falls right back for him. This actually manages to give Eugene a bit of redemption, probably more than he deserves.
Mikal’s problem is different because she is in this Hell by accident; yes, even in Hell there are bureaucratic snafus, but it would make sense that the paperwork of Hell would be especially FUBAR. That’s enough acronyms for today. During life she used drugs – which we all know is wrong and a lot of fun – but she found out what an OD is – aside from yet another acronym – and that, like drugs, they’re bad. Unfortunately, someone screwed up and she ended up in suicide Hell, which really chaps her sweet hide. She spends the film searching out the people in charge – the PICs, there I go again – to correct their paperwork screwup, but, along the way, develops feelings for Zia and all of his awkward Hugh Grantish charm and he – unlike Hugh Grant – finds that she’s more attractive than any Hollywood Boulevard hooker. When she’s finally returned to life after the paperwork error is corrected she wakes up in the hospital in a bed next to Zia and, in a supreme act of love, doesn’t feel like gnawing off her arm, I mean, smiles at him.
Messiah King’s cult is one of those creepy places where the guy in charge advocates drinking Flavor Aid laced with things that are less healthy than artificial sweetener to transcend from our horrible reality to one more agreeable. Boy, did he screw the pooch on that one – and no, I’m not talking about Hugh Grant again. The good thing about cults is that they really catch the easily led and thus remove those annoying people from the world in which they would serve as roadblocks to other people attempting to do normal things. The problem with cults is that those same gullible morons end up at at my front door telling me about the kingdom of heaven or some other nonsense. The best part of dealing with cultists is that they will never be able to understand that they’re in a cult, try asking a Scientologist about Jews For Jesus and see what happens. Desiree’s involvement with a cult pretty much excludes her from someone worth having a long-term relationship with as the odds are, sooner or later, she’ll be called to do something really stupid like kill herself or fight against vaccination. Never drink the punch at a cult mixer.
The version of Hell presented in this film seems comical at first, but, upon reflection, really sucks. Being trapped in a world just slightly worse than this one, where nothing works and no one is in charge, seems like a fate worse than death, especially since death got one there in the first place. The most fascinating detail is the fact that no one can smile, something that seems subtle at first, but, in a film not about emo culture, makes the film world seem particularly bleak. The absence of children, the debris-strewn wasteland, the mutilated residents – people retain evidence of their suicides upon their bodies – and the general sense that the world is screwed and there’s no end in sight make this Hell more personal and more frustrating than one of filled with lakes fire and guys in red suits. There’s also the aspect that, now that all the residents of this world know what comes after death, the great mystery of life that drives us forward to avoid it or at least make sure we’ll be remembered is gone. This means essentially being trapped in a situation in which you know there’s nothing to look forward to, often the position that makes a person suicidal in the first place.