Two Eyes Staring (2010)

SEPTEMBER 25, 2011


Weirdest thing about my time at Fantastic Fest so far? I haven't fallen asleep once during a feature (I dozed during one of the shorts during the Short Fuse horror block yesterday, but it was actually out of choice during an overlong and dull piece). I haven't been sleeping much, and I've been watching a lot of subtitled movies, and not even drinking anything caffeinated in excess, but yet I've caught every frame. Even the painfully slow and not very good (and subtitled!) Two Eyes Staring (Dutch: Zwart Water) couldn't break me, despite the fact that the movie seemed to be TRYING to induce comas at times. Very weird. I may consult my doctor.

If you obtain a DVD and have the ability to play the film at 1.5/2x speed while still being able to hear the audio, then maybe the film will be a decent enough time killer*. It hits all the familiar beats of a "Family inherits giant house and becomes privy to its secrets" movie; the cramped initial home life they leave behind, the little girl who misses her friends, the rooms with items that should be left forgotten, strange sightings, etc, etc. For these sort of movies, the devil is in the details, so as long as the back-story is interesting and a few of the jump scares work, then I can forgive the familiarity; berating this sort of movie for having a scene where the little girl is accused of something the ghost did is like berating a slasher movie for someone taking a shower in the middle of the night for no reason.

The problem is that it's too damn drawn out, clocking in just under 2 hrs to tell a very traditional and uncomplicated story, with precious little atmosphere or well-rounded characters to make up for it. There's a good twist near the end, but even that gets too drawn out, and if you consider its ramifications on the previous 100 minutes, it's even sort of insulting (I could actually list this under another genre tag but it would be spoiling part of the twist).

Now, ordinarily I don't care much about child actors' performances - they're often cast more for their look/resemblance to the adults playing their parents more than anything else, and as long as they hit their marks and aren't bratty, I'm fine with them. But the girl here I think was a poor choice, because she has the most complex role in the film and apparently doesn't have the skill to pull it off. Young Dakota Fanning or the girl from Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark might have been able to sell this better, but this kid just has one mode: distant and seemingly depressed. Whether her character is being terrorized by a ghost, ignored by her mother, or making breakfast with her dad, she always looks/acts exactly the same. It's the sort of thing that you might not notice/care about if the movie was moving along nicely, but when you have a 2-3 minute scene of her just walking around or watching her parents talk, it starts to become a bit too bothersome.

Oh, and they kill a cute bunny, violently. I can count on one hand the number of "necessary" pet deaths in movie history, and this one certainly doesn't make the cut. Plus it's telegraphed by the fact that they buy her the damn thing just to make amends for a previous "accident", which just tells us right away that poor Daisy is not long for this world. At least if it was a long time pet it might not stick out, and it might even be a more successful moment; killing something that she has a lifelong attachment to is not the same as killing a pet that she's had for like a week.

I was also annoyed when a coworker of the girl's father suddenly became Captain Exposition in the third act, as until that point he wasn't even really a character, just a nameless guy who worked in the same factory as the dad. The dad is sitting at work, smoking/stressing out re: his daughter, and the guy just comes over and starts explaining about possession and exorcisms. It's like, who the hell are you, buddy? Couldn't they have introduced him properly and actually created a relationship between these two before he was required to advance the plot? Though I guess that would just make the thing longer, so I guess either way it's a trouble spot.

Saving the affair was a great short that played before the film. The Candidate was written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, and directed by first timer David Karlak, and stars Feast 2/3 star Tom Gulager as a guy at some sort of sales corporation who longs to see his coworker fired for incompetence. And then Robert Picardo (yay!) shows up with an unusual proposition... Saying more would be spoiling things, but even though I figured it out a bit sooner than I think they'd expect, it was still a wonderfully tight and darkly humorous piece. Picardo is always a welcome presence, and his repartee with Gulager is quite entertaining. Supposedly this is intended to be an abbreviated first act of a feature length story - I would fully endorse seeing where the story would go, as long as Picardo is still around (whether Gulager can carry an entire film is a question mark, though I guess he deserves a shot - he was one of the most enjoyable supporting characters in the Feasts). Plus by being so good it kept my mood elevated for a sizable chunk of Two Eyes Staring; it took me 35 minutes or so to say "Hey is this movie running on slow motion or did they just forget to make it interesting?"

Oh well. It's the most disappointed I've been with any feature so far, and it wasn't even a total loss (looked nice, and I liked the actors playing the parents), which is much better than my last travel festival (Frightfest, where the SECOND movie I saw was also pretty much the worst). In other words, if this is as bad as it gets, I'd have to say that the programmers for Fantastic Fest were really on their game.

What say you?

*Apparently Charlize Theron plans on remaking the film. While I'm usually opposed to these sort of quickie "let's remake it in English" endeavors, if they fix the pacing and get a good child actor in the role, this COULD work. I'll give Theron the benefit of the doubt since she rarely does genre work and thus wouldn't just appear in any old thing at this stage in her career.


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