Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 3:15 pm 
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It doesn't cost a lot to scare people. Or to kill them.

"My Little Eye" is a B horror picture that works with low budget effects a little like "The Blair Witch Project," but instead of being out in the Maryland woods (where leafless winter trees looked ever so scary to Californians accustomed to evergreens), "Eye's" five young people are finishing up six months of confinement in a big, now snowbound, house to win a million dollars on a reality TV show for an obscure web site, just by staying there no matter what happens, till the time is up. The finale is quite horrific.

What you have to believe is that five reasonably prosperous seeming people would sign their lives away for six months to an obscure web company they still know nothing about, even now that they are its employees. We're conned into this improbability by the film's just jumping right into the end of the six months after a very brief intro consisting of short clips of each person's induction interview. Then the plot quickly heats up with the arrival of a package full of bricks and a letter notifying one member that his favorite grandfather has died. The others have to persuade him not to break contract by going to the funeral. Other similar intrusions arrive, each one more disturbing than the last.

It turns out later that the website is highly secret (again, why wouldn't they have learned that before being sent to the house, or later since there is a computer in one of the rooms?) and what they're participating in is a snuff film. One of the five has the job of wiping out the other four. But then someone is sent to do him, disguised as a cop. Is this what reality TV is coming to? People hunting each other down is a gruesome sight, and the picture of killing for gain could not be more vivid or elemental.

We also have to believe that what we're seeing was edited from films shot by hidden cameras. The night vision ones show green images in which the folks have glowing eyes like giant cats. Needless to say this provides an eerie note. Sound effects are used in the old way to scare us by startling us right out of our seats, but this timeworn device is not used with excessive zeal.

This is a UK/US production with Canal+ sponsorship, and I'd say it provides good value for the money. Since it constitutes a commentary on reality TV and websites that invade privacy, the movie really takes on a larger meaning and the latter part is genuinely unnerving - more so than "Blair Witch Project," for my money. "My Little Eye" achieves a high degree of immediacy and haunting nastiness with great economy of means. There are moments when neither the young actors nor their lines are very smooth, and the script could be smarter and have a more ironic critique of reality TV's actual characteristics. But an edge is nonetheless successfully achieved.

This is another one of those cases where a limited budget proves to be somewhat advantageous for the filmmakers. When something that is supposed to be a kind of home movie looks like one, it adds conviction. When the actors don't seem to act terribly well, that makes them seem like non-actors, which would mean real people, such as a group of college age kids trying to make a million dollars on a weird reality TV program. M. Knight Shyamalan would never be able to make a film with this kind of simple conviction, because he would have a big budget, and he would have to use Bruce Willis, which would spoil everything. Having big bucks at one's disposal is something that only gets in the way of stimulating our imaginations, on some level, anyway.

Nothing is more horrible and chilling than the Warsaw ghetto episode of "Schindler's List" when the occupants are trapped one by one and taken away by the Gestapo. The ultimate terror is the situation of being hunted down like an animal. This is what happens at the end of "My Little Eye." As long as he is making a house seem like a terrifying place to be, a horror movie director is doing his job and doing it well.

November 2, 2002

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