movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)
NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by rjwingard.
The story opens with FBI Special Agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Echkart) moving into this new desk at a FBI field office in a small town in New Mexico. We learn that his actions involving a high profile case in Dallas let to this "demotion" to New Mexico.
At the same time a traveling salesman is drinking a cup of coffee at a small cafe. It is a dark and stormy night. In walks Benjamin O'Ryan (Ben Kingsley) and engages the man in a conversation which rapidly turns confrontational as O'Ryan shows him sketches of images related to a series of abductions and murders. The salesman runs out of the cafe in the rain, fumbles and drops his keys a couple of times, but eventually manages to get into his car, lock the doors, and drive off.
Thinking he is safe he panics when he sees O'Ryan's face in his rearview mirror. Putting on surgical gloves, O'Ryan tells the driver to pull off at the next exit as he "wouldn't want to do this going 70 miles an hour."
Mackelway is called to the crime scene because the killer managed to push the car a few feet over the state line thus making the crime within the jurisdiction of the FBI. O'Ryan, we later learn, knows of Mackelway and is attempting to engage him in solving this and other abduction/murder crimes.
The traveling salesman had been strangled from behind, his eye lids cut off, and a scrap of paper left on him with a red circle and a slash through it. In the course of the investigation Mackelway returns to the cafe where he is met by FBI Special Agent Fran Kulok (Carrie-Ann Moss). Their relationship is strained. She has been assigned from the Dallas office to be Mackelway's partner on this case. One senses they had a work/romance history together that had problems.
While at the cafe they discover a mysterious car that has been parked in the lot several days. As they search the car they find another body in the trunk. The victim's eye lids have been removed and another scrap of paper with the circle and slash is found on the body. This victim turns out to be an elementary school teacher.
Mackelway and Kulok begin trying to put the pieces together. In addition, Mackelway starts getting anonymous faxes from O'Ryan baiting him to find him.
We also begin to see Mackelway having "flash backs" or visions of crime scenes he has never been to. Mackelway has constant headaches, sleeps poorly, and has these vision which no one can explain.
O'Ryan is seen sitting at a disheveled desk with paper and numerous pencils artists use for sketching. He has a small tape recorder which plays instructions and a strange frequency pitch. The voice on the recorder tells him to focus and provides him direction has he enters a trance-like state and begins sketching abduction and murder crimes that have happened or are happening. The audience learns that he was part of an experimental group of FBI agents involved in psych-ops and trained to "see" crimes. The problem is that this process has totally taken over his life making him unable to fit into normal society. The instructions on the tape recorder are used over and over again to begin the "remote viewing" process.
Mackelway continues to receive more and more faxes of missing persons from O'Ryan. At this point we don't know if O'Ryan is a serial killer or in pursuit of serial killers.
Using information from the faxes, Mackelway and Kulok visit a halfway house where they believe O'Ryan is living. There they find his room and learn more about him. They find many sketches related to abduction and murder crimes. Mackelway's supervisors at the FBI feel that O'Ryan is the killer. Mackelway thinks that O'Ryan actually is a former FBI Special Agent, but no one else believes him.
The third murder is that of a known criminal figure Mackelway arrested several months earlier. However, Mackelway did not follow the law or FBI procedures in making the arrest. The criminal was released and Mackelway demoted. This scene takes place at a country western bar. An attractive young woman goes out to her car to get her purse when she is abducted by this criminal. As the criminal is raping the girl in his pick-up truck, along comes O'Ryan killing him and releasing the girl. Once again, the victim's eye lids are removed and the circle and slash note is left. At this point, Mackelway knows that O'Ryan is trying to contact him due to a brief greeting written in the dust on a window of the pick up truck.
There are parts in the film that are difficult to follow. Mackelway is seeing visions, but he can't understand or make them out. O'Ryan is having visions that are more defined and clear. The film has numerous scenes of Mackelway having fuzzy visions and O'Ryan sitting at a desk going through the "remote viewing" process sketching clues to crimes. Often these separate visions overlap one another.
Mackelway decides to visit the home of the traveling salesman using some of the images found in O'Ryan's room. As he arrives at the house he notices the sketch O'Ryan made of the house matches it perfectly. Unable to gain much information from the salesman's wife, Mackelway breaks into the house after she leaves. Entering the attic he finds a trunk drawn in one of O'Ryan's sketches. He opens it and finds human body parts. This leads to an entire search of the salesman's property where several bodies are found buried. Next the property of the elementary school teacher is searched where other bodies are found.
Mackelway now knows that O'Ryan is killing serial killers. The FBI, however, are not certain if O'Ryan himself has become a serial killer.
To learn more about O'Ryan, Mackelway visits a college professor who specializes in abnormal psychology. The professor explains to Mackelway that O'Ryan was a student of his who had this theory that a person could become the perfect serial killer if they just killed randomly and did not have any sort of pattern. Hence, the name "suspect zero" and the circle with the slash through it.
Mackelway still has the visions and sees a big rig tractor trailer in one of them. O'Ryan has just sketched an abduction of a young boy and he too draws a tractor trailer. In other words, Mackelway, without any formal training, has a similar "gift" like O'Ryan. O'Ryan is trying to give Mackelway clues to help in catch a major, yet unknown, serial killer in return for a special favor.
The story comes to a climax as Mackelway goes back to the to O'Ryan's apartment and finds a 8mm projector running telling about the project O'Ryan was part of. He now understands that there have been hundreds of abductions and murders made by one serial killer and that O'Ryan is trying to catch him.
As Mackelway is returning to his office he sees a tractor trailer on the side of the road. He flashes back to the visions he has had. He calls his partner, Kulok, and asks her if the marks found on some of the victims could have been freezer burns. She researches his question, calls him back, and tells him they are most definitely freezer burns. The scores of victims were murdered and buried hundreds of miles from where they were first abducted. A truck with a refrigerator trailer is what is being used.
Pursuing the truck he is led to a carnival where he finds that the boy he saw riding in the cab of the truck actually is the son of the driver. He was mistaken. As he turns around he is looking into the face of Ben Kingsley.
In the next scene Mackelway is bound and gagged on the floor of an apartment. We don't know how he got there. O'Ryan is pretending that he is going to kill Mackelway and asks him if he is scared. Mackelway remains strong and O'Ryan tells him he passed the test.
O'Ryan and Mackelway are now driving to a destination O'Ryan has seen in is remote viewing sessions. O'Ryan tells Mackelway all about the project and what it was like to be part of it. The only problem was that they were never told how to "turn it off" and that the other men he worked with are now dead or institutionalized.
O'Ryan pulls into a desolate farm house. As they approach the house they look through a window and see torture devices. They then look in a field and see mound after mound of graves.
At this point a black tractor trailer pulls onto the property. The driver sees O'Ryan and Mackelway and quickly drives off. A chase ensues while Mackelway calls Kulok advising her of the situation and his location. Both vehicles crash, but O'Ryan, Mackelway, and the suspect survive the crash and now Mackelway is in foot pursuit of the serial killer. He catches him and as their fight comes to an end Mackelway picks up a heavy rock and slams it down on the skull of the suspect as the faces of many of the victims race through his mind.
O'Ryan comes up to the exhausted Mackelway and hands him his gun and tells him he has to kill him to make the "remote viewing" end. He can't go on anymore. In other words, O'Ryan felt that by helping Mackelway find perhaps the nation's worst serial killer Mackelway would feel obligated to O'Ryan and kill him. Mackelway refuses which causes O'Ryan to pull a knife on Mackelway just as Kulok arrives on the scene. She shoots O'Ryan, killing him. Mackelway holds O'Ryan in his arms as he dies and O'Ryan thanks him telling him he knew it would end like this.
The camera flashes back to O'Ryan's apartment where there is a sketch of O'Ryan with Mackelway and Kulok looking down on him.