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Film Fri Nov 20 2009
Local production house Split Pillow is releasing their latest, a locally-produced horror flick that tries to pay homage to the types of psychological/metaphysical thrillers that gave birth to the best of the horror genre. Complete with creaky mansion! Eye of the Sandman felt a bit like Gaslight + Frankenstein's monster + a Misfits song / Tongue-In-Cheek References to Convention. The premiere tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center is sold out, but a third show was added for Saturday at 8pm.
It's difficult to write reviews of movies like Eye of the Sandman. Done on a low budget with local actors, obviously the job is not to judge it against the types of movies that Steve at the Movies over there in your right-hand column tackles. Yet having been subjected to the vanity projects of any number of aspiring musicians/filmmakers/artists, I don't have much patience for something that doesn't grab and hold my attention, and provide entertainment value worth the time I'm sacrificing. So before I popped the press screener of Eye of the Sandman into the DVD player, I decided my rubric would be: if I was standing outside the theater where the movie was playing, and the people in line asked me if they should be forking over cash or time to see the movie, what would I say?
Here's what I would say: It'll actually entertain you, one way or another. And it looks good.
Based on an old E.T.A. Hoffman story ("Der Sandmann"), the film centers on a be-eye-patched woman, Natalie (Jeanene Beauregard), who with her meek but brilliant fiancee Clark (Allan Aquino), go to inspect a mansion (or "manse" if you will) inherited from a long lost aunt. Natalie has some somewhat clumsily exposited issues with her abandonment as a child, and in order to avoid focusing on the past she agrees to finally move forward with a marriage that Clark seems to feel will never happen. Almost manically, she agrees to plan and hold the wedding at this new mansion. To help her put the wedding together, she invites some old friends, who contribute victims for the story and create a somewhat confusing love story/triangle subplot.
In the meanwhile, they meet a Victorian-style mad scientist, Dr. Spalanzani (Dave Belden), who has been using a part of the manse for his research. He's fanatically devoted to the sciences. Fanatically. And his "son", Olimpio (Andrew Yearick), who is also be-eye-patched, fascinates Natalie. She's drawn to him inexplicably, despite the fact that he is monosyllabic, and often less. Their burgeoning relationship--complete with a chuckleworthy and surprisingly well done "varying costumes and locales" eye-patch themed love song montage--tracks with the increase in strange and dangerous happenings around the house. I should note that by "burgeoning relationship" I actually mean her obsession with him--perhaps because unlike her, he seems to be a blank slate.
The movie has some third act problems with the resolution of who the doctor is and how he is tied to Natalie's past, but, surprisingly for an underdog independent flick, the directing saves it.
Often times with super indy flicks, the technical expertise is lacking in a way that makes even casual moviegoers (like me) notice it. Good directing often requires lots and lots of takes and angles, and with a limited budget and time, there is often a tendency to just set the camera up and let it roll, as though you're just taping a play. Thankfully, that never happens here. The directors--Dennis Belogorsky, MT Cozzola, who also wrote the screenplay, and Jeffrey McHale, who has a killer one-liner in the movie--and cinematographer, Michael Dunne, tell the story well through the shots. I won't pretend to be an expert on editing, but presumably their editor did a good job weaving together lots of different takes in a non-intrusive way. A movie like this needs to hoard every possible moment of suspense and mystery, particularly during the resolution, or risk losing them into the air, deflating everything. The look and feel of the movie conveys the sense of energy the filmmakers had in creating it.
When I said there was an element of a Misfits song, I didn't mean in the soundtrack. There's not much of a soundtrack to the movie at all, actually. I more meant that there is a real effort to infuse the movie with a bit of a hip sensibility and awareness of the limits of what they're trying to do: make a haunted house/mad scientist/damsel in danger movie in 2009. So the filmmakers have fun with the content and with themselves. I've always thought nothing ruins a performance more than when you can tell the artist is trying, particularly when it comes to movies or plays. Eye of the Sandman keeps a singular focus on making each scene entertaining. That the filmmakers kept the movie at less than eighty minutes proves that lack of pretension or self-indulgence.
With expectations of a touch (or more) of plodding story and awkward exposition here and some wooden acting there, Eye of the Sandman is definitely worth the trip to Siskel Film Center. For the eye patch love song alone.
I also don't think it is justifiable to review a movie without some kind of ratings system. Stars and letter grades are played out, I can't use thumbs without thinking of this from McSweeney's, and I want to go with something I can potentially claim as proprietary down the line. My solution: a formula that involves taking the time you'd invest in the movie, and comparing it to what else you are probably doing with your time instead of seeing the movie. I link the two with the ever-popular "greater than/less than" symbol, and voila, provide you the reader with history's most accurate film rating system.
Comme ca: (Eye of the Sandman(74mins)) > ((Reading The AV Club TV Club Review Comments While Watching the Fox Sunday Animation Domination Episodes You Missed on Hulu)(84mins))