Imagine you’re an FBI agent like Mulder or Scully; you work for a department that deals with unexplained phenomena. For this week’s episode, you’re investigating a series of disappearances in Washington State along the Cascade Mountains. Locals have reported missing hikers for generations and even the indigenous natives spoke of a powerful evil that emerges every 30 years. For preparation, you sit down at your computer terminal and review a series of classified videos that have been seized over the years. The case file name: Eyes in the Dark.
Check out my review after the jump.
Back of the Box: A group of college co-eds takes a trip to a mountain lodge looking for relaxation, beer, and maybe a dip in the hot tub. But when they stumble on clues about an ancient legend, they quickly find themselves fighting for their lives. Will they be able to escape this unspeakable evil? And are they the only ones who have ever crossed its path? Shot in first-person, POV style in a remote area of the Washington Cascade foothills, Eyes in the Dark shows there’s no terror worse than our own fear of the unknown.
When I read “first-person, POV style” I imagined a film as seen through the eyes of a character, like last year’s remake of Maniac. But no, that was just their clever (or misleading) way of saying “Found Footage“. That’s right boys and girls, it’s one of THOSE movies with all the usual hallmarks you either tolerate or hate about them: Shaky, out of focus camera-work and terrible sound quality, for starters. The camera used in Eyes in the Dark seemed especially deficient when shooting at night; I’d bring my face right up to the screen and still have trouble deciphering things.
The film is mostly pulled from the camera used by the horny co-eds, but also includes footage from news reports, a biological study documenting local deer populations, a search party, and even images recorded on cell phones. There’s this split-pause-distortion effect used throughout that can either promotes a sense of authenticity (the look of actual, damaged film) or hints at a paranormal energy in the immediate vicinity. If you aren’t a fan of “Found Footage” don’t even bother; even if you love the subgenre, this one is especially rough on the eyes so, consider yourselves warned.
Writer/director/producer and Washington native Bjorn Anderson says he was inspired to write Eyes in the Dark by a reoccurring nightmare, one where he was being cased by some nebulous creature. This is a common human fear so, whether or not he realizes, Anderson taps into a shared, nearly universal dread. And this is where the film draws it’s resonance. The setting and circumstances are ideal for terror amplification: The forest at night is the perfect place for evil to lurk; cut off from the safety and comforts of modern society makes a person feel especially naked and vulnerable. Anderson does a good job of creating and maintaining a pervasively creepy mood that goes a long way towards countering the poor productions quality.
Anderson also admits he’s influenced by The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfeild, but that’s what I call a “No-duh” statement. And while I appreciate his honesty, it doesn’t change the fact that this movie looks and feels incredibly dated and repetitive. It would be one thing if this film came out in 1999 when “Found Footage” was hot shit because, in my opinion, it’s way better than Blair Witch. But by 2010, “Found Footage” needed to be fucking stellar or, seriously, don’t even bother. The fact that the subgenre is flooded means the bar these days is set incredibly high. Eyes in the Dark isn’t a terrible film, but it’s no Cloverfield.
As for the titular “Eyes in the Dark”, I found the concept both subtle and profound. I instantly recalled a scene from the original 1979 Amityville Horror; when Kathy Lutz closes the curtains of her daughter’s 2nd story bedroom she’s shocked to see two glowing red eyes outside–staring at her. It scared the shit out of me and made it almost impossible for me to look out windows at night for years! It was such a simple effect, even for the 1970’s but so striking, even to this day; the disembodied eyes allow the imagination to run wild in a horrifying manner, creating mental pictures more terrifying than any Hollywood spook or slasher. Unfortunately, Anderson’s glowing eyes were unable to create the same sense of dread, and I’ll tell you why: Way too much wattage. These yes don’t just reflect or glow, they beam–and it’s overboard. In one scene, the eyes are so bright you can see them reflecting in a river. Nothing organic has eyes that luminous, like super powered glow-sticks at a rave, like frickin’ laser-pointers! It’s silly when it needs to be horrifying because these eyes just doesn’t fit, whether they’re attached to a monster, a ghost, or even an alien. (They MIGHT have worked for a robot.)
It’s pretty amazing, by the way, that no one in the entire film ever uses the words “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” (or even “Skunk Ape”) since such a beast would be an obvious culprit in a dense forest of the Pacific Northwest. Good avoidance of clichés and subversion of expectations.
I found myself craving a Cloverfield-esque “money-shot” but didn’t get one–which is okay in principal, but left me feeling rather unsatisfied. Still, Eyes in the Dark is a tight little indie that gets the job done. The college students are all hella annoying–but their supposed to be and the actors are competent all around. If Eyes in the Dark had come out before 2005 I probably would have given it al least 3 out of 5 Skull Heads, but in 2014 it’s just okay. If you just love “Found Footage”, like you simply can’t get enough of it, then by all means see this flick. If, however, you’re only on the fence when it comes to this abundant subgenre, this one probably won’t knock your socks off.
2.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Bjorn Anderson|
|Produced by||Bjorn Anderson|
|Written by||Bjorn Anderson|
|Editing by||Robyn Scaringi|
|Studio||Emerald City Pictures|
|Running time||78 minutes|