My Little Eye

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 09/24/11 23:55:41

"I spy something beginning with..."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

"D" for Dull, perhaps. Or maybe "S" for Sucks.

Five young people, desperate for a $1m prize agree to take part in a 24/7 live webcast from an isolated mansion seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The contestants include Matt, the alpha male of the group; Danny, a rather sensitive soul; Rex, a sarcastic loner; Charlie, a slutty starlet desperate for fame and Emma, the homely nice girl that lives next door.

All they have to do to win the money is to remain in the house as a group, for six months. If anyone leaves for any reason, they all lose. Of course, as it turns out there are plenty of reasons to leave the house. The company behind the webcast seem intent on playing psychological games with them. All five contestants have various issues and skeletons in their cupboard that are gleefully poked for maximum effect. Supplies are withheld. A gun is delivered to the house. Unsettling messages are left written on windows. And all the while the unceasing and unblinking CCTV cameras capture every screaming argument, every shudder of fear and every step towards mental breakdown.

One thing you couldn't accuse director Marc Evans and the writers of is missing the zeitgeist. My Little Eye was released just at a time when the reality TV show was starting to dominate TV schedules across the world. The problem of course of attempting to ride a zeitgeist is that if it changes, you can end up being left way behind which is the unfortunate fate of the film here. Simply put, to our contemporary eyes, it doesn't really resemble a plausible reality TV show, whether it's purely for the internet or not. The characters feel overwritten and they lack the spark of improvisation that would make them feel like they really have wandered in off the street. None of them are particularly likeable either, and while that isn't really a pre-requisite for me in a film, it does make it increasingly hard to care about them once the company starts ramping up the intensity of their games.

Unfortunately, that just leads onto a further major flaw in the film which is that it rarely makes good use of its setting or unique viewing environment. Too often it falls into jump scares and obvious sudden noises, which do nothing but remind this particular critic of various episodes of Most Haunted or Ghost Hunters. Maybe the use of night vision cameras back in 2002 seemed innovative and fresh, but now it's hokey and obvious. After all, what's the point of setting up a constantly monitored environment if your film is going to turn into a common or garden slasher flick? Worse still, Evans somehow misses the open goal of implicitly making us the internet viewers and therefore culpable as to what's happening to the contestants. At times of stress and apparent high tension, dramatic music kicks in - but is this music supposed to be on the internet streaming or actual film music? The film can never make its mind up what it wants to be, with the effect that it distances us from what's happening, when what it should be doing is actually drawing us in and making what happens our fault. It's simply too easy to take a step back and remove ourselves from the inevitable bloodshed.

It's not a complete failure, though. The snow-bound isolation works well and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the film works best when its subtle, not loud. Little bloody reminders of people's past lying around the house are shivery notes of how disturbing the house is and once the film gets past the slasher nonsense of the climax, there comes a final five minutes that viewed in isolation gives a cold knot of fear in the stomach as to what exactly the contestants have fallen into. It's a classic paranoid final touch that follows the lead from the likes of Night of the Living Dead or Invasion of the Bodysnatchers - they're out to get you and they've been watching all along. Just a shame the rest of the film doesn't deserve that final quiet scene of clenching horror.

One thought I had throughout the film was what would Michael Haneke do with this concept? His cinema deals in blame and complicity and you can only imagine how he would take this format and burrow under your skin with it. Actually, I'm willing to bet that with another ten years of reality TV show to draw from, if Marc Evans were to attempt this again he'd get much more right than he gets wrong here. Sometimes trying to catch that contemporary train is a curse, not a blessing. In fact, I think I have it now. It's "N" for Nice try, but Not quite there.

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