"Wristcutters: A Love Story" | Road trip through the afterlife

In the quiet opening shots of Goran Dukic's extremely dark comedy "Wristcutters: A Love Story," we watch a young man (Patrick Fugit, of "Almost Famous") cleaning his messy bedroom. Meticulously, he tidies, vacuums, dusts, waters the plants, wipes the bathroom surfaces. And then he slits his wrists, leaving a ruby-hued puddle of blood in that sparkling sink.

This is, to put it mildly, not how most movies subtitled "A Love Story" begin, and indeed "Wristcutters" is not like most movies. A hit at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2006 (where Dukic won the audience award for best director), it's an odd sort of otherworldly road movie, in which Fugit's character, Zia, travels through a blue-tinged afterlife populated solely by those who have committed suicide, filled with familiar settings and few smiles. "Everything's the same here," observes Zia, whose wristcutting was prompted by a breakup with his girlfriend. "It's just a little bit worse."

In his travels through the barren landscape (filmed so murkily it at times seems underwater), Zia hooks up with Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a woman convinced she isn't dead and has been sent by mistake, and Eugene (Shea Whigham), a Russian rock musician whose entire family has been able to join him in the afterlife. (Eugene's impressive rock-star suicide involves an electric guitar and a beer.) They're in search of Desiree (Leslie Bibb), Zia's angelic-looking ex-girlfriend who has apparently committed suicide, too. Along the way, they encounter the mysterious Kneller (the musician Tom Waits), who helps get them headed in the right direction.

All this sounds rather grim, and indeed it is — but this backward "Heaven Can Wait" is also, thanks to Dukic's inventive imagination, surprisingly involving and ultimately sweet. It's filmed with careful attention to detail: Mikal's red sweat shirt is the film's only vivid color, as if she doesn't quite belong; the trio's beat-up car has a black hole beneath it, into which things disappear at regular intervals. At one point, Mikal lights a cigarette and tosses her still-lit match into the air, where it soars like a shooting star. Later, another match flies up to join it; even matches, it turns out, need friends.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Movie review 3 stars

"Wristcutters: A Love Story," with Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Shea Whigham, Leslie Bibb, Tom Waits. Written and directed by Goran Dukic, based on a short story by Etgar Keret. 91 minutes. Rated R for language and disturbing content involving suicide. Meridian.