Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet
Directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen
Wheelhouse Creative / Blue Fox Entertainment /
Black Stork Productions / MVD Visual
82 minutes, 2016
One of the strongest held of the original no-nos of cinema was that you do not harm a child, even with Hitchcock blowing up a kid and a bus in one of his British-era films. Well, certainly those years are gone, especially since the nasties of the 1980s. Even so, it’s still a subject that is uncomfortable with many, and of course that works out well for a genre film.
This is the grounds on which this story’s seeds are sown, and expressed through the seemingly mandatory prologue at the start of most horror films. This one, taking place 25 years before the main story, is a bit more unsettling than most, and better for it; but it does set you up to know that you are not about to see the average slasher or murderous spirit.
Based on a 14-minute short film in 2013 by the same director, with the same basic plot, similar artwork, and the same lead actress, this new version is more fleshed out – its a shame they didn’t add it to the extras on this DVD. You can see it HERE, but I recommend seeing it after the feature.
The legend in the small town of Widow’s Peak (filmed in, Catskill, NY) is that there was a crazy man, Robert Bowery (Jason Martin) who had macular degeneration and ate people’s eyes because he believed it would keep him from going blind, but he was especially attracted to those of youngsters because “the fresher the better”. Now it is quarter of a century later since the last attack, and that same victim from the prologue has announced to the coppers “He’s awake,” giving this a kind of Jeepers Creepers creature premise.
The heroine of the story is Helen (Cait Bliss, who has a kind of Lisa Gerritsen appeal, and is originally from Catskill), who is in the mid-20s. She’s forced to babysit by her police chief dad for a widower who has recently bought the old man’s house for himself and pre-teen son. It’s pretty easy to put the pieces together about the shell of what’s going to happen, so the question is can Helen come to the rescue? Can she convince Ginger (that last Bowery victim), who has never truly recovered mentally, to help her? I am not going to say much more than that as far as storyline goes.
Even with pushing the envelope of the number of shots of roaming around in the dark with flashlights – both indoors and out – it rarely gets to the point of being too long to get tiresome. But the thing that is most important is simply that this really is a creepy-ass film. The pace is great, the plot not completely predictable, and yet the story does leave the viewer with a few questions (perhaps to be answered with a sequel that can actually be an origin prequel?).
Though shot in Upstate New York, about 100 miles north of New York City, the director is Icelandic, which means sensibilities are a titch different than what we would expect from someone from the West, which I’m guessing is where some the surprise twists and turns originate from, being more of a European-ish/Scandinavian-ish sensibility. This, I’m sure may have to do with the different aspects of dark that surround the film. For example, the actual image is pretty dark (just look at the cropped screenshots included), though the cinematography by John Wakayama Carey is spot on so you can see everything you’re supposed to, which is not an easy feat in that light (he also shot the short, but he did not shoot the deputy). But the film is also dark in a more esoteric way in that, hey, it’s a story about someone/something that eats children’s eyes and then kills them, and also eats their bodies (as well as adults).
There is also a metaphysical aspect to Bowery in the same kind of Michael/Jason way in which he is more than merely human and hard to put to rest (just look at the image on the box). Which brings me to the SFX. Bowery’s make-up is really well done, by Fiona Tyson (who also works on the shows “Vinyl” and “Gotham,” and also did the original short, but did not do the dep...okay, I'll stop now), who should be commended, as well. The gore shows up intermittently but frequently, and always looks damn good.
One of the extras is a 16 minute “Deleted Scenes” series that are nicely explained via title cards. Most were rightfully taken out, and a couple I believe could have stayed, but there is not any fluff. I recommend watching it because in a couple of instances it will explain some questions that may arise (such as why Helen’s hand is covered with blood in a shot in the third act). Then there is a full-length audio commentary with the director, and two main leads, Bliss and Martin. About half of it is joking around, but the other half makes it worth sitting through. For me, the big problem was the sound: Bliss is clear and near the microphone, but Martin and Thoroddsen are harder to hear, especially towards the beginning, even with the sound at full volume.
This film could have been corny and clichéd, based on tropes that have been around for decades, but Thoroddsen manages to take a relatively fresh approach. That makes this enjoyable to watch, and its mood and motif may help make that chill go up and down your spine. You won’t be able to – err – take your eyes off it.