Friday, January 9, 2009

Five Across The Eyes

I believe in cutting indie filmmakers a bit of slack. When Michael Bay runs into a problem on Bad Boys 9, he has $200 million to throw at it. An independent guy has whatever credit is left on the card his brother loaned him. Five Across The Eyes is definitely trying to make a horror movie on a shoestring, and, for the most part, it succeeds.

Five young women going home after a football game take an ill-advised shortcut in east Tennessee (this is a similar setup to Bryan Smith’s great novel House of Blood, so a new Universal Rule: When driving through east Tennessee, stay on the goddamned interstate). The shortcut becomes a nightmare when they get lost, and are chased and tormented by an obviously deranged woman. That’s about it for plot outline, although it isn’t really inadequate for its purposes.

The movie was filmed on digital video near Morristown, Tennessee (also where The Evil Dead was filmed), and seems to have used mostly local talent, as the accents match the location. The girls are supposed to be 15 or 16 years old, and the actresses are too old for the parts, but that is par for the course. Although cast members have few if any professional credits, for the most part they do a competent job. (I did think the actress playing Isabelle was prone to bizarre facial expressions, but maybe she was supposed to have Tourette’s). All of the characters with the exception of Melanie are unremittingly dumb, but that may have been necessary to the story.

There are two central self-imposed rules by the people making the film. The first is the film occurs in real time, a tradition that goes back at least as far as Robert Wise’s classic The Set-Up. This works well, as the action should be compressed for this story. The second is that filming occurs from within the van in which the girls are riding. I understand that this was at least partly to build a sense of claustrophobia and feeling trapped in the van, but it doesn’t always work. There is no reason for it other than just being the director’s choice, since the camera POV moves around within the van, and there are a few sequences where the action moves outside the van and it is difficult to tell what the hell is going on. I wish they had been a little more lax about that rule.

This is another movie that I feel doesn’t have enough story to reach its 90 minute length, and to make it last, the characters commit one of the common horror movie errors that just drive me crazy. Their antagonist is one crazy woman with a shotgun, and on several occasions when she is briefly incapacitated, they refuse the opportunity to finish her off. I understand the girls may be a little delicate, but when you’ve been tortured by a psycho, it’s okay to give her an extra whack with a crowbar to make sure she stays down. They finally get past this at the end of the movie. There are also occasions when the psycho woman is attacking one of their friends, and the girls could take her out by ganging up on her, but instead wait their turn.

Despite all this, this is a pretty good little film. It effectively transmits the panic of the girls, and doesn’t make the mistake of trying to explain why the psycho is freaking out. The not knowing why you’re being targeted adds to the terror. Unless you’re bothered with watching a movie filmed with a sometimes shaky handheld camera, it is probably worth a rental.

As a trivial note, this is one of the rare films to have no male speaking parts (the only men in the cast play corpses). Also as trivia, the title Five Across The Eyes is slang for a slap (five fingers across the eyes, get it?), but the filmmakers try to needlessly justify the great title by having the girls call the section of Tennessee they are traveling through "The Eyes". Five girls traveling across The Eyes. It would have been easier to have the psycho scream "I'll give you five across the eyes!" at a crucial point and leave it at that.



John Hornor Jacobs said...

I always like the phrase "five across the chops." It's got that wiseguy flavor.

And look at you, on a blogging tear. Two reviews, one day.

KentAllard said...

I count three - so far.