Content Warning: This article mentions themes of suicide.
To their loved ones, a suicide victim’s death brings a complicated grief, full of guilt and unanswered questions. The victim is no longer present to see this devastation — but what if they could see how their death affects those around them? SUNY New Paltz alumni Taylor Seupel’s directorial debut “Suicide Eyes” explores this hypothetical situation with a mix of graphic realism and dark comedy.
“Suicide Eyes” had its second screening and Q&A on March 25 at the Arts Society of Kingston. Seupel wrote, directed and starred in the 14-minute short film, which was also produced with the help of digital media production students from SUNY New Paltz. Seupel plays Jake, a suicide victim, who is forced to witness the aftermath of his final action. Jake is subjected to the emotional reactions of his friends and family, as well as the process his body must undergo on the way to the grave. Jake’s postmortem journey is approached as a dark comedy, garnering many laughs despite its serious themes. During the Q&A following the screening, Seupel explained that he chose to use humor to avoid the melodrama of typical PSAs.
“This was an attempt to subvert that and freely tell the audience a real story, a real message that hooked them in with humor and things that people like and humanity, as opposed to just trying to beat them over the head with a message,” Seupel said.
The humor offsets the film’s graphic imagery. The realities of suicide are presented in uncompromising detail. The blood, wounds and incisions are viscerally portrayed through both practical and special effects, added digitally in post-production. Though Seupel was determined to not show any acts of violence on camera, he aimed to confront viewers with the ugliness of death.
“Perhaps it might act as additional persuasive material to not take action that leads to one’s own demise,” Seupel said. “But whether it leads to more horror or comedy is ultimately up to the viewer.”
Seupel’s performance is supported by local actors. Norm Magnusson plays The Man, who acts as Jake’s guide through this bizarre experience. Bettina Skye is Jake’s mother, whose grief hits close to home. Rick Lange is the twisted coroner; he has an especially pivotal role in the film. They and the rest of the supporting cast hit varied emotional notes, conveying the complexity of a film with such heavy subject matter.
Seupel lost both his brother and his father to suicide. He himself also struggles with depression. “The story was not about them; it was about me,” Seupel said. Writing this film helped Seupel process his trauma.
“I struggled with suicidal ideation in the past, and there came a point in my life where I was feeling in such a strong, terrible way that I felt that I needed to do something, put my energy somewhere, or else I was just going to die,” Seupel said. “And so I thought to myself, what would happen if you did commit suicide?”
“I just started writing,” Seupel said. “I put my angst and my feelings into something other than myself, projected it out. And you know, I have a dark sense of humor, so it quickly took a comic turn.”
According to Seupel, after the first screening people reached out to say that the film helped them sort through difficulties in their lives. Seupel is working with local government to show the film in public schools; he hopes to show the film in colleges as well. He is currently working on a number of new projects, some of which also tackle social issues.
“Ideally, I care most about encouraging people who are suffering with suicidal ideation to open up to others about it and to seek help,” Seupel wrote in an email. “The idea of normalizing seeking help when things are hard is important, and knowing that no good can come from going through with reckless self-harm.”
The next screening of Suicide Eyes will be on April 8 at 7 p.m. in the Arts Society of Kingston building. For more information, visit the Arts Society of Kingston website at https://askforarts.org