Vanguard Cinema // 2001 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // September 24th, 2004
"It's like a game." -- Hannah
I've never used the official marketing blurb to summarize the plot of a movie, but the time has come. You'll see why shortly. For now, let's set the stage:
A stylish suspense story, a sensual voyeuristic adventure...
When her parents and her boyfriend are unable to join her, gorgeous Hannah, on a university holiday in Malibu, is unexpectedly left with a beautiful beach cottage to herself. The stunning redhead develops a pervasive fascination with her neighbors, covertly videotaping them at odd hours. Their erotic intrigues and infidelities awaken in her a sexual awareness and sensual self-discovery. Questioning what lies beneath the surface of this quiet, picturesque beach community, she soon suspects that the disconnected happenings may be connected. Is beautiful Hannah the watcher, or is she being watched? And by whom?
In many ways, viewing independent films like Malibu Eyes returns us to an older and superior form of movie watching. It used to be that audiences would view films without much information, not even the basics of the plot. Trailers didn't give everything away, the internet didn't post spoilers, and the marketing machines still had respect for the integrity of the movie experience. You had to digest the film on the fly, absorb what was happening, and struggle to understand. It is my personal and deeply held belief that the best movie-watching experiences occur when you have absolutely no idea what you're in for. Most of us have experienced it. Maybe you caught a movie on cable just after the opening credits; without knowing its title, genre, or plot you were drawn in and found yourself disproportionately entertained. Maybe a friend dragged you to a movie you'd never heard of, and you found an overlooked treasure. These experiences are little gems of ignorance in our string of marketing-saturated movie experiences.
Purely in terms of the "ignorance is bliss" tenet of movie watching, Malibu Eyes is a blank. The film has no entry on the Internet Movie Database, the gold standard for internet movie information. If you look up director Norman Ollestad, you'll find that he had supporting roles in a string of routine dramas before his death in 1979. Oops, wrong guy. The star, Courtney Cole-Fendley, had a supporting role in October Sky and made a guest appearance on Dawson's Creek. Even the official site yields very little. The only external information is a quote from Boxoffice magazine -- "elegant and edgy, provocative yet meditative" -- yet when you search for this quote directly it cannot be found. In other words, both marketing and internet research fail to divulge much about this film.
Ironically, that is all going to change when DVD Verdict posts my review, and yet another pure movie-watching experience will be compromised. That's a shame because, though the film is not entirely successful, the success it does enjoy is completely due to the viewer's experience of taking in visual cues and processing them as the movie unfolds.
Malibu Eyes is erotic, more erotic than most "B" skin flicks that operate under the formula. You know the formula, don't you? Well, Malibu Eyes breaks free of it. The eroticism is cerebral, stemming from a look here, an illicit thrill there, culminating in an unexpectedly realistic scene that is relatively chaste in terms of flesh exposed. It is the kind of erotica that will probably appeal to women slightly more than men, if only because we'll be straining to catch the naughty parts of Hannah's anatomy and might overlook the nuances of the situation. I happen to agree with fellow reviewer Bill Gibron, who stated in his review of The French Erotic Collection that "Somewhere, somehow, the definition of 'erotica' got goofed up." If you are tired of glossy, glittery hardbodies writhing on cue, hiding themselves behind awkwardly placed thighs (or displaying plastic parts for the requisite 2.3 seconds), then Malibu Eyes might be the sort of retro thrill you're seeking. There isn't a lot of skin, but there is the flush of sensual repression evaporating before your eyes.
Atop this erotic undercurrent is a socio-intellectual exploration of voyeuristic ethics. If you happen to be minding your own business in your own home, can you film whatever you want? Can you take a camera anywhere you are allowed to be? What is the social impact of such actions? I can't say much more, but it is a timely, engaging debate.
Considering its independent and presumably low-budget roots, Malibu Eyes musters some impressive acting performances. Cole-Fendley's Hannah is as gorgeous, stunning, and pervasively fascinated as the cover claims. The movie lives or dies with Hannah, and Mrs. Cole-Fendley keeps it alive. She realistically portrays a sexy woman with a conflicting subversive edginess and tendency to repress herself. Her cheeks flush at the right time, her pupils widen on cue, and she carries herself in a way that keeps us interested in her. Hannah's foils, on the other hand, are hit or miss. Her mother is too breezy to have much emotional impact, and the wicked nemesis (played by Mina Badie) is a bit too romance-novelly for my tastes. The resident heart-fluttering stud (played by Alex Nesic) is clearly cast for his sculpted torso and gleaming sneer, but he projects a personality much deeper than his cardboard persona would suggest. I could actually believe that he was trapped in a maddening downward spiral of sexual politics.
This digital video effort is primarily shot on location in a straightforward but interesting style. There is a healthy amount of postproduction tricks, such as using digital mattes to represent different cameras, and an occasional use of transparent overlay. These techniques sometimes overextend their welcome, but on the whole the movie is capably edited. Let me state it this way: I have seen several studio efforts that employed editing inferior to this. The video quality has a distinct digital video look, which is less satisfying than traditional film but something we will gradually grow accustomed to through frequent exposure. The sound mix is technically Dolby Digital 5.1, but there is little need for such. Though Malibu Eyes does not fully capitalize on the six channels, the sound mix is clear and mostly free of the muffly, echoey cloud that dulls many shot-on-location tracks.
The real problem with Malibu Eyes is that it muddles the resolution of the mysteries it creates. Malibu Eyes is light on dialogue, relying on expressions and posture to convey many of the questions. Hannah is alone, and thus not speaking, for much of the film. The plot tidbits we glean come from devices such as phone conversations, conversations with dogs or herself, out-loud poetry recitations, and the like. So when the grand intrigue wraps up, we have a vague idea of what the threads have been, and even less idea of how they intertwine and terminate. There is no clear climax. (The ending may become clearer with repeat viewings, but Malibu Eyes is not the sort of movie people rewatch.) It is mysterious, sensual, different enough, capably handled, but ultimately murky.
Review content copyright © 2004 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Vanguard Cinema
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated