"Good advice," thought Judge Adam Arseneau as he watched this supernatural thriller.
"I'm sorry…I just do cigarettes."
Based on a novel by Madison Smartt Bell, Close Your Eyes is the kind of movie you will walk by a hundred times on the DVD shelf and never ever give a second glance, which is a shame, because it deserves a look or two.
Well, maybe just a quick look.
Facts of the Case
As far as hypnotherapists go, Dr. Michael Strother (Goran Visnjic, ER) is one of the best. Handsome, smart, ambitious, and of course, he has the ability to see into the minds of his patients. It gives him the edge on his competitors. But when Strother tries to help a detective quit smoking, he sees in her mind the image of a little girl, submerged in a stream. The detective, awestruck, realizes the doctor's gift, and recruits him to assist on her case. The young girl in the vision, Heather, disappeared from her home one night, kidnapped by a serial killer, and simply re-emerged without a word ten days later—in fact, without any words at all. She has not said a single thing since her return.
With the police desperate for clues to Heather's miraculous escape, Strother and the detective visit the girl. The doctor puts Heather under hypnosis to try and coax her into talking again. But what he sees in her mind is a kaleidoscopic jumble of rituals, symbols, and strange faces that holds the key to the location of the killer…and possibly something much more supernatural and sinister. Desperate to understand the mysterious images now in his mind, Strother tries to unlock the secrets of the Tattoo Murderer, and stop the killer from coming back not only for Heather, but also for his own family!
Close Your Eyes starts off ambiguous, like the perpetual middle child of all B-movie thrillers, with great ambition but having no idea how to stand out from the pack. For the first hour or so, the film cannot quite decide whether it wants to be creepy, scary, or just plain weird, like trying to channel Se7en, a BBC cop drama, and Being John Malkovich all at the same time. Confused from the identity crisis, Close Your Eyes ends up settling into a simple, low-key sense of dread and mild intrigue, ripping off better films. Rather than snaring you with hooks and thrills and psychological tension, like a good thriller ought to, it simply engages your curiosity with its ever-building, ever-winding narrative. Creative license aside, it is an interesting approach to the genre, and though Close Your Eyes steals from every page of the thriller playbook, its ambitious story and esoteric weirdness manage to keep an inch ahead of the wrecking ball straight through until the end…just barely.
A simple investigation about a missing girl rapidly turns into a jumble of iconography, theology, history, Dali-esque dream landscapes of the human subconscious, a freaky kind of supernatural immortality, and, well, just plain general weirdness. It may not be cohesive, but it sure is ambitious; the movie swings for the bleachers, I'll give it that. Not merely satisfied to be a simple police thriller, the supernatural undertones give the film an element of the horrific, and the strange psychotropic imagery (and/or corny bluescreen effects) adds an element of surrealism to an already odd and complicated film. But an Oscar-winning screenplay, this isn't; raw ambition only takes you so far.
The acting is moderate to poor, the thrills are academic rather than chilling, and the screenplay freely suspends common sense, reality and sensible thinking in exchange for good old-fashioned suspense. This is the kind of film you won't be rushing out to buy, but if you inadvertently left the video store with it, you wouldn't ask for a refund. It never really had a chance of being anything more than another obscure unknown title on the video rental rack, despite being a particularly well-executed and intriguing example of its kind.
Goran Visnjic, Miranda Otto, and Shirley Henderson slog through their respective roles, but the acting is pretty poor, even for a B-film. Everyone looks bored or perplexed, as if they can barely comprehend how their careers have taken such a turn. In terms of actual qualify of performance; they are all a bit on the sketchy side—everyone seems to swing between fits of mania and absurd levels of calm. Shirley Henderson does all right as the British police offer investigating the kidnapped child case, probably because she seems so poorly fitted for the role. In a bulky leather jacket, smoking her cigarettes, Henderson looks much more like she should be playing bass in the band Elastica than chasing serial killers.
As the film reaches its finale, it gets less thrilling, sillier, and more clichéd. The twists are executed with the needle precision that can only come from lifting ideas from hundreds of previously successful thrillers, and the ending is textbook stuff, but this only slightly detracts from the experience. Since when are movies supposed to be original, anyway? You'd think that serial killers would stop planning their murders in such a way that the locations form a pentagram on a city map—I mean, that's the first thing I'd check. Luckily, Close Your Eyes partially succeeds in the originality department through its murders. This film features some diabolically messed-up ways of killing people, which I shan't spoil because they are just too much fun. One scene in particular will have the squeamish screaming en masse, like some sort of freaky off-key church choir being chased by a fire-breathing robotic donkey.
Ah, the screaming. It makes me rub my hands in glee just to think about it. But I'm kind of a jerk like that.
The transfer is a weird one, with a murky and grainy appearance throughout the film. The film comes through as 1.85:1, but is letterboxed into 2.35:1, something incredibly unfashionable in these days of plentiful anamorphic widescreen transfers. Blacks are murky and gray, detail is hazy and obtuse, and flesh tones vary from scene to scene. Not the best looking DVD transfer, to say the least. The audio is a bit better, a decent enough Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The music, an odd mix of classical chamber music and bass-heavy modern throbbing soundtrack, sweeps the low band with bass drops and dance-hall bass lines. The bass is in-your-face enough, but the rest of the mix sounds thin and transparent, like listening through wax paper. Always nice to see a surround mix, but I doubt I would have noticed the difference between this track and a very sharp Dolby Digital 2.0 track. It's okay, but not stellar.
In terms of extras, we get some pedantic cast and crew interviews, a "behind the scenes" trip to the set during filming, and some previews. But by far the worst special feature is a ridiculously stupid theatrical promo that literally condenses the entire film down into four minutes, scene by scene, even going so far as spoiling the final confrontation sequence and revealing the identity of the killer. This hardly qualifies as a "special feature," but it does qualify as being "very stupid." Seriously.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Thank goodness they didn't go with the film's (and the source novel's) original UK title: Doctor Sleep. Sweet zombie Jesus, that would have been something—something that you never, ever would have spent money on.
But now, sadly, Dr. Giggles will continue to have no company in the horror section of the DVD rental store. The injustice is appalling. And yet, strangely, I won't lose any sleep over it.
Close Your Eyes promises more weirdness than it can ultimately deliver, but you've got to give credit to the creative and ambitious ideas the film attempts to pull off. The film doesn't land all of its punches, but it lands enough of them in some seriously weird and original places to be considered worth a rental one evening.
Doctor Sleep. 'Nuff said.
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Studio: First Look Pictures
• Cast and Crew Interviews
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