Sunday, March 6, 2016

Suicide Note (G It’s Entertainment/Marvista Entertainment/Lifetime, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The next item on Lifetime’s repertoire after Nightmare Nurse last night was Suicide Note — the graphic on’s page for it lists the title with an article (The Suicide Note) but both the actual credits and imdb’s headline are article-free — about a bunch of college students at an elite private university (“played” by the campus of Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina, by the way) and the trouble they get into after one of them, Emma Duncan (Kirsten Ray) either falls, jumps or is pushed off the roof of one of the campus buildings. Like Nightmare Nurse, Suicide Note was written by Jake Helgren — and this time he got to direct it as well, and proved to be quite a good suspense director, adept at building up tension in a whodunit, even though director Helgren was at the mercy of writer Helgren, who once again turned in a script with barely believable characters and situations and a preposterous trick ending. The central character is Emma’s roommate, Molly White (Kirby Bliss Blanton — I was wondering if she’s any relation to stalwart Lifetime actress Boti Bliss, but I get the impression from her Wikipedia bio, reprinted on, that she isn’t: “The youngest of four children, she grew up in The Woodlands, Texas, and started her career doing modeling and commercials in nearby Houston. After doing some month-long stunts in Los Angeles, she moved there permanently with her mother. Her first name was given because her parents expected her to be a boy, her middle name Bliss is her mother's maiden name” — but she scored points with me in at least one particular: she pronounced the “t” sound in “often”).

Molly previously suffered from clinical depression and attempted suicide herself — in one scene she shows us the scars, lengthwise down her arms where she cut herself (which I’ve read is actually more effective than the slice across the wrists; across the wrists and you take so long to bleed out you’ll probably be found and rescued before you croak) — before recovering, making it into college, majoring in psychology and just scoring an especially prized internship in a hospital for the next year that will actually give her hands-on experience with patients. She’s also got a hot-looking boyfriend, Brady Faris (Brant Daugherty), who’s an art major at the same college. Her life seems to be working well, but it starts to go south when her roommate Emma is angrily confronted by Emma’s boyfriend, Adam Bowen (Stephen Colletti) — the dorm where Molly, Emma and Molly’s other best friend, Irene Keating (Lexi Giovagnoli) live is supposed to be all-female and totally off limits to men, but men seem to have no particular trouble getting in: either they steal those credit card-like plastic cards with magnetic strips that have taken the place of old-fashioned keys in buildings like this, or they bribe the maintenance guy to let them in — who crashes her room and starts chewing her out. Emma tells Adam that she’s looking forward to a new part of her life that doesn’t involve him, and the next time Molly and Irene hear of her, she’s fallen off the roof of one of the campus buildings. The police — headed by Detective Harrison (Maxwell Highsmith), who for once isn’t an avuncular African-American but an avuncular white person with a striking resemblance to Mitt Romney — and the campus authorities are convinced Emma committed suicide because she left a note behind reading, “I’m sorry. Forgive me.”

Molly concedes that the handwriting of the note looks like Emma’s but insists that her knowledge of human character, both as an ace psychology student and a former attempted suicide herself, convinces her that Emma can’t have killed herself, and she starts a search to find out what really happened to her. Helgren is a good enough writer to give us a wide pool of suspects, generated mainly by the sexual goings-on between the college kids: though Emma was supposed to be dating Adam, she had sex with a mysterious other guy — and Adam felt entitled to have an affair of his own with Jasmine (Nthenya Ndunda — the moment I saw those jumbles of letters in the opening credits I knew the actress and her character would turn out to be Black, and I was right), a barista at the on-campus coffeehouse, “The Grind.” Molly suspects that Emma’s alternate boyfriend, and possibly her killer, was Doug (Kyle Leatherberry), another barista at “The Grind,” but Doug heatedly denies it. Molly and Irene get together with a stereotypical computer nerd on campus to hack into Emma’s e-mails and see if they yield a clue as to who killed her; Molly doesn’t get to read the key clue, but Irene does — and just then a sinister-looking figure we see only from the waist down crashes her apartment, strangles her and leaves her corpse under her bed. The climax occurs on the night of the campus’s end-of-the-year party; Molly absents herself from it to look up the hacked e-mails and finds one from Emma to Molly’s boyfriend Brady, saying that she’s breaking up with him and going back to Adam, while Brady should return to Molly because they’re obviously so right with each other.

Then Brady appears and tries to strangle Molly, first kissing her as he puts his hands around her neck (I couldn’t help but think of the line from Othello, “I kissed thee ’ere I killed thee” — I guess at some point in his life Jake Helgren has read some Shakespeare) and apologizing that even though he’s in love with her, he’s going to have to knock her off because he can’t afford having her reveal his secret — and Molly appears to be falling for it when she notices Irene’s corpse under the other bed in the room. Molly grabs a baseball bat (what was one doing there?) and clubs Brady with it, but it only knocks him out temporarily. He chases her as she tries to run away, and Brady is about to kill Molly when a deus ex machina appears in the form of Professor Majors (Gabrielle Carteris), who shows up and gets the maintenance guy to let her into the dorm by showing her faculty ID. She confronts and distracts Brady, but ultimately Molly kills him with a scalpel Adam, a medical student, had previously put in her purse to scare her. There’s a tag scene that indicates that Molly is doing well in her internship — she shows up at “The Grind” wearing red scrubs from the hospital — and it seems like she and Doug (ya remember Doug?) are headed for a relationship, or at least an affair. Like Nightmare Nurse, Suicide Note is a pretty good Lifetime movie, neither as great as some of them have been (can you say Restless Virgins?) nor as terrible as others (can you say Obsession?), decently directed by Helgren, though if he’s going to become a major director he needs either to write himself better scripts or let others do it for him. Suicide Note is a pretty grim movie, and not grim in an appealingly noir-ish way but just grim in the sense that it’s one groan-inducing situation after another with little or no relief. We don’t even get any of the soft-core porn scenes that have frequently lightened up Lifetime movies and given them a sort of lubricious entertainment value — and the emergence of nice, hot-looking Brady as the real killer is something of a surprise, but not really since we’ve been suspecting all along that that would be at least one of the common Lifetime clichés Helgren would plug in when his script needed an ending. This is listed as a co-production of Marvista Entertainment with a company called “G It’s Entertainment,” whose name couldn’t help but inspire me to joke, “That’s a matter of opinion.”