OCTOBER 15, 2012
With a title like Eddie The Sleepwalking Cannibal, I was expecting a full blown comedic splatter fest along the lines of Dead Alive or something, albeit with a cannibal in lieu of zombies. But to my surprise (and the movie's benefit), it was actually a pretty low-key affair, keeping the comedy limited to dry dialogue and the occasional sight gag while telling a more character driven tale of an artist with a most unfortunate handicap - he can only be inspired in the face of tragedy.
When the film begins, our hero Lars hasn't painted in years, and has taken a job as a teacher at a remote, drastically underfunded art school. There he meets Eddie, a mute, mentally challenged man who just sort of hangs out at the school making fingerpaints, something they allow since his only living relative is a primary donor to the school. But when she dies, Lars agrees to take him in, despite the caveat that he sometimes sleepwalks and kills animals in the process. Lars quickly sees this as a way of getting rid of his neighbor's noisy dog, but there's a slight hiccup - Eddie kills/eats the owner as well. At first he's horrified, but then Lars realizes he's suddenly gotten his creative spark again, and quickly produces a piece that sells for a pretty penny, which he donates to the school.
So basically we have a Bucket of Blood type scenario, except in this case the struggling artist isn't the one doing the killing. Using meat on a string and other tricks, Lars just guides Eddie to the location of a "deserving" victim (some assholes who picked on Eddie, a drunken driver, etc) and lets him do his thing, with the results inspiring yet another piece. Obviously, things spiral out of control before long, as Lars becomes obsessed with producing more work and manipulating Eddie to uncomfortable degrees. The friendship between the two is one of the film's key assets, and it's pretty damn heartbreaking when Lars, needing Eddie to feel stressed and upset, starts mocking him and telling him that he's a loser and that no one else wanted to deal with him. Both actors are terrific, with Thure Lindhardt (who looks like Paul Bettany fused with Simon Pegg) perfectly toeing that line between being a terrible monster and a sympathetic protagonist, and Dylan Smith making a fully realized character without ever getting to speak. I've said before, it's rare that you can watch a horror film (especially one with a goofy title) and walk away impressed with an acting performance; that this film offers two is just extraordinary.
It also offers up a pair of Pontypool actors, which helped to remind me that I STILL haven't read that movie's source novel (I bought it the week after I saw the movie, three years ago!). Stephen McHattie pops up in a couple of scenes as Lars' agent, a complete asshole who seemingly encourages the deviant behavior required to produce the artwork (which we never see, by the way). And the lovely Georgina Reilly plays Lars' colleague and would-be love interest, and gets plenty of screentime here (her Pontypool role was too brief, as I recall). In fact the whole cast is solid; I loved the sheriff, who is immediately suspicious of Lars (they have an amazing exchange regarding a deer that Lars accidentally hits - part of it is in the trailer below), and the school's principal was a delight as well. And even though we never see him, the radio DJ might be my favorite character of the year, though I'll let you find out why when you see the movie
Director/co-writer Boris Rodriguez also wisely keeps the cannibalism to a minimum. Since we're supposed to sympathize with these guys to some degree, it would be pretty hard if we were constantly seeing Eddie murder innocent people (or even seeing the resulting artwork), so everything is suggested or partially obscured until the final reel. But he makes it count that way, and I was legit surprised at the amount of blood a particular character is covered in by the end of the film - you really get a sense of how dangerous things have gotten and why they need to stop. The humor is still there (and I like how his inspiration sort of dries out while he's trying to paint - it's basically treated like impotence), but the stakes are real - the escalation from "Eh, he had it coming" type kills (like the dentist in Little Shop Of Horrors) to "OK these guys are terrible people" is handled perfectly both on the script level and in the direction - not bad for a guy making his first theatrical feature.
It was preceded by Smush, a short film from the guys behind DeadHeads, a great zombie comedy that premiered at last year's Screamfest. A prequel focusing on the character we know as Cheese, it was a fine pair with the film, as both focused on monsters we kind of love (and both had extended audio based gags playing over the end credits, oddly enough), and didn't shy away from practical gore (yay!). It also reaffirmed that there is still potential in the crowded zom-com field, so kudos to the Pierce brothers for pulling that off - hopefully they'll have another feature soon (not necessarily a zombie film - I'd love to see their approach to a monster flick though).
According to the IMDb (...), the film has been picked up by Music Box for US theatrical play, which is great as they've handled tricky stuff before (they did the US releases of the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo movies) and actually DO put their acquisitions into theaters, unlike certain other studios that may or may not rhyme with Schimension, or Brian's Hate. Obviously it won't be in the multiplexes, but I'm happy it will find its way into genre fans' hands soon. A highlight of the fest so far.
What say you?