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‘Wristcutters’ is a Love Story From the (Very Mundane) Afterlife

They just don’t make indie movies like this romcom about suicide purgatory anymore

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

Today I’m looking at Wristcutters: A Love Story, which is currently streaming on Cinemax Go.

If you kill yourself, what awaits you in the afterlife? A cloudy heaven? A fiery hell? Or maybe just another plane of existence almost exactly like the world as you know it, only  shittier?

When Zia (Patrick Fugit) slits his wrists and dies, he finds himself in a depressingly mundane world populated only by other people who’ve committed suicide. He works a miserable job, he has an annoying roommate and his only real friend is Eugene (Shea Wigham), a brusque Russian musician who lives with his family, all of whom offed themselves as well. But Zia finds hope again when he learns his ex-girlfriend Desire has also killed herself (hooray!). Buoyed, he sets out on a road trip to find her. He’s joined by Eugene and a mysterious woman named Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon) who’s looking for “the people in charge” because she believes she ended up in this world by mistake.

While the premise of Wristcutters: A Love Story is fantastical, its dialogue is totally naturalistic, with everyone in it sounding constantly bored. For all intents and purposes, it’s a regular road movie, except it’s interspersed with flashbacks to how each character ended their own life, often delivered in a way that reads more deadpan comedy than tragedy. 

Where Wristcutters really stands out, though, is with its world-building. The settings all express a limbo-esque liminalism, consisting mostly of dumpy bars, rundown gas stations and long stretches of barren desert. Colors are muted, and everyone’s skin looks drained of any color. The soundtrack is built mostly out of musicians who have killed themselves like Ian Curtis, Gram Parsons and Del Shannon (with the exception of some diegetic tracks by Gogol Bordello, as Eugene is partially based off of frontman Eugene Hutz).

Its world-building strength also extends to the writing, with filmmaker Goran Dukić doing exceptional work crafting a purgatory that’s charmingly miserable by focusing on making all of the little things just a bit more awful. There are no stars in the sky, appliances work poorly, everyone is in a bad mood and it’s literally impossible to smile. It’s all so remarkably unremarkable that it could make someone want to kill themselves a second time (though no one does for fear of going to an even worse place).

Wristcutters belongs to a certain brand of low-budget, high-concept twee that feels distinct to indie films of the late 1990s and early 2000s. But its approach to the dark subject matter of suicide is so airily light that it makes the film feel like more than just a slog of people being miserable. Eugene is content in being rude and unfulfilled, having “gotten used to it,” but neither Zia nor Mikal want to acclimate, with both of them yearning to get back to things they had while alive. The bond that builds between the three of them is equally endearing and funny, as if their shared misery helps them understand each other better in this muted world. It’s a testament to everything being a bit more tolerable when you’ve got people by your side who get you. 

To quote the song they sing on the drive, “If you want it, you always have to make your own fun.”

To see a list of each of the previous entries, check out the A Very Chingy Halloween list on Letterboxd.

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