FIVE ACROSS THE EYES

FIVE ACROSS THE EYES

This film has already proven to be incredibly divisive, judging by wildly varying online comments and reviews. Which in itself makes it one of the most interesting horror offerings of recent times

It opens with tinny electronic pop music blasting annoyingly from the stereo of a car being driven by the teenaged Isabella (Sandra Paduch). She's driving her four friends home from a night out in her mother's car (complete with her recently departed dad's ashes in the back).

The friends - Isabella, along with passengers Jamie (Danielle Lilley), Caroline (Angela Brunda), Stephanie (Jennifer Barnett) and Melanie (Mia Yi) - open the film by breathlessly debating whether or not they should continue along a darkened "short cut" home that appears to be leading them nowhere.

They decide to persevere with their chosen route. Minutes later, they happen upon a service station lit up in the night and choose to momentarily stop to ask for directions. Isabella decides to play a trick on Melanie as she returns from the toilet, pretending to drive away each time she reaches for the car door.

Unfortunately these shenanigans lead to Isabella ramming her mother's car into a parked SUV. Oops. Instead of parking up and finding the owner to apologise and possibly swap insurance details, the girls panic and drive away in a hurry. Double oops.

In no time at all, the girls - completely lost and unable to get a signal on their mobile phones (yes, it's that old chestnut again) - realise the SUV is advancing quickly behind them with it's single working headlight on full beam. Fair play to Isabella: she tries her best to outrun their pursuer, but comes unstuck when she drives into a dead-end.

This is where things get hairy. The SUV driver turns out to be a demented woman (Veronica Garcia, ANOTHER PART OF ME), who is irate about her vehicle being violated or is there more on her mind? It certainly seems so, as her manic hateful bile escalates while she forces the five girls out of their car and makes them strip. Humiliatingly, she demands that one of them takes a piss on the pile of stripped clothing.

Fearing they are going to die, the girls are in equal amounts baffled and relieved when the mad woman suddenly decides to leave without blasting any of them with the dirty great shotgun she's sporting. The girls, sobbing, retire back into their car and prepare to timidly complete their journey home.

But, in horror film terms at least, the night is young: the woman soon appears on the road again, and panic sets in big-style as the latter half of FIVE ACROSS THE EYES transforms into an unstoppable chase/terror experience.

The title of the film could refer to the fact that we have five girls travelling across an area in America known locally as "The Eyes". However, "Five across the eyes" is also American slang for "a slap in the face" (as a metal song towards the end of the film keeps reminding us). Does it live up to this latter translation? Well

EYES is an exceptionally economic exercise in horror. It's shot on two DV cameras by first-time co-directors Greg Swinson and Ryan Thiessen, and is almost entirely based in the interior of the girls' car. This is essentially an exercise in the close-up observation of teenaged girls screaming in panic. For 94 minutes.

But, for all its cheap shoddy look and dodgy sound design (it's a struggle to hear dialogue at times), this works. Sure, some will give up approximately 10 minutes into the film when they realise there's no way they're willing to tolerate an hour and a half of whining teenagers (for once, this cast actually look and sound the age they're meant to be portraying).

But if you stick with this, it's the ultra-realistic performances of the girls - their petty differences and believably dumb dialogue - that makes this thing tick over. Also, the simplistic camera-work (bound to draw comparisons with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, but nowhere near as shaky) helps draw the viewer into an uncomfortable level of immediacy - it's urgent, panicked and raw. Like few horror films are these days.

Performances are natural and therefore very strong indeed for the large part, and the emphasis firmly on horror - there are moments of dry humour, but this an essay in tension, not mirth.

Other strong points include the tight pacing, savvy editing of the footage shot on two cameras, and the score by Shannon McDowell and David Risdahl - which really shouldn't work, but does.

The film's biggest obstacles are as follows:

It's format. I imagine some will be instantly repelled by a grainy DV presentation akin to the blurry, ghosting effect we suffered in the (inferior) THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

It's length. As engrossing as the film often is, it would have benefited from being trimmed of perhaps 20 minutes. It gets a little samey, and the denouement isn't quite strong enough to carry a 94-minute film.

The lapses in continuity and reason. Anyone who's already seen the film will know what I mean - it was screened at Edinburgh's excellent Dead By Dawn festival recently, and many people I spoke to afterwards picked up on these errors/inconsistencies. I can't divulge them here unfortunately without giving away massive spoilers but rest assured, they're here.

Overcome these shortcomings though (which, in fairness, a lot of contemporary cult classic horror films also suffer from) and you get a remarkable film shot on a miniscule budget (around $4000) with an unknown young cast, utilising only two cameras and using practically one set-up (the inside of Isabella's car).

Shot in the same town that THE EVIL DEAD was filmed - Morristown Tennessee - this is well worth sticking with, if you can let yourself fall under the spell of it's delirious mania (oh, the screaming!) and unsettlingly verite camerawork.

Might I add that, although this is best perceived as a tense chase picture with virtually no let-up during it's running time, it also delivers some nasty set-pieces along the way: screwdriver rammed in the minge, anyone?! Or a clutch of fishing hooks rammed into a screaming adolescent's mouth?!?!

As I said at the beginning of this review, this film has proven to be incredibly divisive. You either love it or you hate it.

Although, to contradict that, I'm a little undecided as to my overall opinion. I enjoyed it's screening at Dead By Dawn (and judging by the audience's reactions, so did a lot of other people) I recognised it's flaws, but really appreciated it's efforts and see enormous potential in it's makers. It held up to a second viewing (and came across possibly better on the small screen), but I don't know how many times I'd be prepared to sit through the incessant screaming in the future

That said, after recently sitting through tepid "horror" films such as STORM WARNING, WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE and BURIED ALIVE, I found FIVE ACROSS THE EYES to be a refreshingly brutal horror film - uncompromising and at least striving to achieve a level of terror that most filmmakers seem too sheepish to even attempt these days.

Lion's Gate's R2 disc presents the film uncut in a 1.78:1 transfer, enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. The picture quality is difficult to comment upon, as although it's grainy and suffers from washed-out colours, this is how the film was shot - it's not a flaw of the transfer itself. If anything, the film looks better on disc than it does on the big screen.

The English 2.0 audio is still a little muffled at times (again, more to do with the miniscule budget and equipment used by Swinson and Thiessen, than the DVD). It's a decent job though, as is the video transfer - if anything, the film suits it's raw style.

The presence of English Hard of Hearing subtitles is a Godsend though, for some of the more shrieked dialogue later in the film (now I know, for example, what the woman was actually accusing the girls of while abusing them). The subtitles are generally very good, although it was odd to see that the line "filthy slut" has been changed on the subtitles to "filthy twat"!

Static menus don't include a scene-selection menu, but the film can be navigated through by way of 16 chapters.

Extras begin with a well-edited 17-minute Behind The Scenes featurette, which offers plenty of insightful footage of key scenes ("The Pee Scene", "Screwdriver Rape, etc"). It's an interesting watch, although unfortunately there's no interviews direct to the camera, just the occasional asides between takes. Still, fascinating stuff.

13 minutes of deleted scenes follow, presented in non-enhanced widescreen. These are more like extended or alternate takes of scenes already seen in the film.

Finally, the disc opens with trailers for CATACOMBS, SEE NO EVIL and THE HAMILTONS.

FIVE ACROSS THE EYES may not be as forceful as a slap in the face. But it is an undeniably jarring experience, which shows what can be achieved with virtually no resources to hand. Yes, it's nasty - shotgun sodomy, enforced urination, shit used as a weapon, multiple stabbings - but, heck, it's about time we had something depraved to shout about.

The micro budget and the screaming girls (did I mention the incessant screaming?!) may deter some. For others, EYES will be a breath of fresh air.

And when a film is this divisive, i.e. provoking discussion, it's surely worth at least a watch.

Review by Stuart Willis


 
Released by Lions Gate UK
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review
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