CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy


My Little Eye Marc Evans 2002

Everything's Fun and Games Until OH MY GOD!!!

I will go on the record and say that I get so worked up about some upcoming horror movies that I would sell my own mother into a Kathie Lee Gifford-owned sweatshop to get a hold of them (mom, if you're still reading this garbage, it's all a persona). Especially given this, shall we say, "dark" time, when the world around us is far more terrifying than the studio garbage that is somehow passing for horror in the theatres, I've become something of a fanatic about genuinely scary horror films. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm a "geek" or a "gorehound" or "fanboy" or anything like that (although I do see these poor things at various conventions, advance screenings, and underground video stores, sporting their Evil Dead t-shirts and rifling through the used DVD bins, Fangoria tucked under one arm and newly-unearthed VHS copy of Bog under the other, looking every inch the sad, pathetic, and lonely losers that their stereotype champions; the little dears probably have cats and run their own "niche" horror websites...), but for some reason certain log lines or titles or concepts grab me by the hair on my ass and just won't let go. I end up spending months and months unearthing every shred of news I can, finally locating a bootleg DVD or pirated screener copy, and eventually am completely disappointed with the actual film and end up with a $25 paperweight with a cover that's entirely in Mandarin.

I'm happy to report that such is not the case with My Little Eye. I remember that it was over a year ago, when I caught wind of the words "nasty little thriller" floating around in cyberspace, that my attention was drawn to the film, which has undergone some serious distrubution troubles and a good deal of PR spin (something about being dropped by a US studio, for reason of being too disturbing or unreleasable, blah blah). I will freely admit that I am a S-U-C-K-E-R when I hear the words "too disturbing to release"... or is it "full release"?... at any rate, I was hooked by the concept of a Big Brother-style reality show gone horribly wrong and the reported nastiness and unrelenting morbid tone of the film.

So when the film was never released in the states, I got pissed. I heard reports from pals in the UK that it was fantastic and a big success (critically, at least) over there, and couldn't imagine why it didn't come out here. Likewise on video: the DVD has been out in Europe for quite some time, but no word on a US release at all. Luckily, I have a friend with a region-free DVD player and was able to get my hands on a copy, and here's what my litte eye saw...

The premise is quite simple: 5 strangers have been selected from audition tapes to live in a webcam house for 6 months. If they all remain there for the entire 6 months, with their every move monitored by the internet audience, then they get... ONE! MILLION! DOLLARS!! But if but one of them leaves or breaks the curfew (I think they have to be back by sunset, but as they are in a secluded house in a fenced-in property in the middle of nowhere, I don't see how this would be a problem), they all go home empty-handed. We see snippets of their audition tapes, just enough to get a broad idea of the various characters: Emma (They's anemic Laura Regan), the goody-two-shoes; Charlie (Jennifer Sky, a Xena alum and the titular Cleopatra 2525), the slut; Rex (Ginger Snaps' Kris Lemche), the asshole; Matt (Sean CW Johnson, the Red Power Ranger), the hunk; and Danny (Stephen O'Reilly), the "nice guy". After this brief setup we see a clever accelerated summary of the first 5 months and 3 weeks of the show, which is presented with four images on the screen at once in quadrants (I was initially horrified that the entire film was going to be like this and started scrambling for the Advil). This also establishes the intrusive webcam look and sound that the cameras make when "switching", which will be used to creepy effect later on.

So things seem fine and dandy in Big Brother-on-Quebec (even in a secluded house you can still tell it's Canada): the "company" blares them awake with sirens every morning as usual, sets off the security lights in the wooded yard at any sign of movement, and leaves them giant care packages on the property that the kids have to find in the snow. The cast is getting along, and all signs point to happy endings and fat wallets for everyone.

That's when things start to go very wrong.

This is a very hard review to write because so much of what is successful about the film is predicated on your not knowing what the hell is going on (the tagline for the film, "Fear is not knowing, Terror is finding out", though clumsy, is quite appropriate). As opposed to other webcam movies, like the big-budget BM Halloween: Insurrection, where you know very well what the danger is and the webcam idea is just a plot device, this movie stays loyal to its internal logic (we only see what the cameras can see) and doesn't tip its hand too early as to the source of the looming and very palpable danger. It could be a haunted house. It could be that one of the contestants is going to crack. It could be that the producers are going to fuck with them. It could be that there is someone else on the property. The filmmakers cleverly raise and then dismiss just about all of these possibilities (a debate tactic known as "innoculation", not that I was a debate geek or anything...) to show you that they're not going to try to sneak anything past you and aren't taking you for a fool. The mood is set very quickly and is very, very dark and unsettling, with the mechanical whirring of cameras and intrusive panning and zooming into conversations giving you the feeling that you are in the control room (and somehow implicated in what is to come? Maybe -- this point isn't made as clearly as it is in, say, Funny Games, but it's there). The screw is turned verrrrry slooowwwwly, with little complications piling up and becoming big ones, and stranger and stranger obstacles emerging: one night the boiler goes out... the next night there's a crow in the attic... their weekly food package arrives containing nothing but bricks... one of the contestants gets news that his grandfather has died... one of the girls wakes up with a bloody hammer next to her on the pillow.

By the time we're finally let in on what the fuck is going on, I was wound up tighter than a virgin at a prison rodeo. As with most films like this, things fall apart a bit after the big twist is revealed (think Identity or Unbreakable), but I was impressed by the pace of the final act and at the uncomprimising, brutal handling of the resolution, which left me feeling a bit... icky. My friends who watched it with me were less impressed than I was, but again, it had me at hello, so I can't really argue -- I got suckered by several twists that I really should have seen coming but was too involved to see. Let me say that things don't end well in general and leave it at that.

Lest this be an unqualified rave, I did have some issues. For one, the use of jarring nondiagetic music sticks out like a sore thumb, since the tone and "rules" are established early on as being limited to the internal technology of the webcast; I much prefer the use of the whirring camera sounds and recorded hoot owls (a very creepy touch) to scare-scene death metal. There is very clever use of music within several scenes, including one scare scene near the end that reaches near-operatic levels thanks to the Army of Darkness Playstation game that is running in the background. And who can argue with a film that uses Peaches' "Fuck the Pain Away" as a major set piece?! Sticking to this more clever method of "amping" the tone of a scene using its internal elements, rather than slapping some loud music on top of it, would have been much preferable. And of course, the constant, pressing issue with these films: none of the characters is at all likeable, so why do we care? In My Little Eye, it's not really the point, as the real topic at hand is the viewers, not the contestants. This webcast exists solely because we live in a time where their are plenty of people who are willing to be dehumanized, exploited, and essentially penetrated 24/7 if you dangle a carrot in front of them. Depressing? Yes. But the point? Not really... here this is presented as a given, and the next logical question is the one at hand, namely: "Who watches this stuff?".

Well, I did. And I liked it!

Alright, the queer angle: well, there really isn't one, unless you count the presence of the ever-yummy Bradley Cooper (Alias, I Want to Marry Ryan Banks), who played a homo camp counsellor in Wet Hot American Summer. This movie is really as straight as they come, and the brutality and sadism that drives the conclusion is definitely not queer in any way: these are straight people who like to fuck with each other and feel powerful, and it's very unpleasant. Full stop.

As a side note, I want to say that the double-disk DVD is an ABSOLUTE MUST. Sure, this film is only available on Region 2 and you might see DVD-R bootlegs on EBay, but don't do it: these boots don't have the extra and essential option of watching the film from the Internet Subscriber vantage. Again, I can't get too much into it without giving crucial plot points away, but watching the film again in this mode is essentially like watching a different movie, with an entirely different cast and scenes. It's easily the most advanced and brilliant use of the DVD medium that I've seen so far (yes, even surpassing the Extra Fart Soundtrack on the Wet Hot American Summer disc) and raises the question as to what new forms of interactive entertainment might be on the horizon (how about a cartoon that's also a video game?! Oh, wait...). This one's worth the $30, folks -- and let's hope that some distributor brings the puppy out here in the US!

Rating (out of 5):