Judge David Johnson was pleasantly surprised by this tense, unique horror experiment.
Getting home by curfew is going to be hell.
It sounds like same-old, same-old: teenage girls, van, backwoods, psychopath. But Five Across the Eyes explodes genre conventions.
Facts of the Case
A group of teenage girls are on their way back from a football game, driving down the secluded roads of Tennessee. For a while, it's the typical joking and giggling and trash-talking commonplace among modern American adolescent females. And then one of the girls accidentally rams a car. Panicked, she drives away from the accident. This proves to be a huge mistake because it's not long until a whack job woman chases them down, forces them at gunpoint to strip naked among other humiliating things and generally scares that crap out of them. She eventually takes off, leaving the girls confused and terrified, but their night of horror is just beginning.
That's all I'm going to say about the plot because, really, that's all there is to say about the plot. Five Across the Eyes (great title by the way; the area the teens drive through is called "The Eyes") is an exercise in minimalist storytelling. Perhaps "hyperminimalist" is more accurate, to borrow a term from the Upright Citizens Brigade. There is no convoluted mythology to explore, no origin story behind the killer to unravel, no contrived twist ending that makes the entire film that preceded it meaningless—no, this is not your typical horror movie.
This is a horror movie unlike any you've seen.
Coming from someone who's been exposed to a staggering amount of the genre, for me to say that is something. It takes a unique release to make me look at horror with anything other than the typical disdain and/or boredom, and Five Across the Eyes nails it.
Directors Greg Swinson and Ryan Thiessen have forged a fascinating concept: the 94 minutes of their film happen in real time, shot with one handheld camera—guerilla documentary-style—from the backseat of the van the entire time. It's a wild premise, packed silly with risk, and though that risk does sometimes translate into on-screen misfires, the experiment ultimately works, and works well. Swinson and Thiessen have balls and so does their movie.
Typically I'm not one for these faux-documentary kind of deals (I loathed The Blair Witch Project), but this film was engrossing enough so I didn't even think "Hey this is a gimmick!" And with a story that is essentially a crazed woman—love the fact that the killer was essentially a psycho soccer mom—chasing a van full of girls down some dark roads, the filming style is perfectly suited.
The disc case synopsis makes the experience sound like your usual dose of torture porn and while the final ten minutes do get a pretty out of control, graphic sequences of limb removal and bloodshed are not the sources of the shocks. Five Across the Eyes is a white-knuckler, which derives its scares from a pervading sense of doom and danger and the rawness of the girls' horror. The cast is fearless, willing to subject themselves to caked-on fake blood, constant whacked-out bellowing, some involved physical stunts and just an overall sense of a F-ed up shooting atmosphere.
So scope this out, regardless of the following criticisms. It's worth a look by any horror fan. But there are some trade-offs to this risky venture. With the camera is one position for all 94 minutes, don't expect much scenery change and while I can appreciate the claustrophobic feel, there were times the static setting grew tedious. Much like the screaming girls who scream a lot for a long time. Realistic? Sure! Brain-gouging? Sometimes! And once in a while this realistic dialogue is spice with such lines as "It smells like a dying gorilla took a dump on a burning tire!" That's a pretty creative exclamation to be used in the heat of an intense situation. Small potatoes, though, compared to the overall effectiveness of the film.
Unfortunately, the disc is unimpressive. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen is incredibly grainy, sometimes proving near-impossible to decipher what is going on. For the audio, you get a 2.0 stereo mix that is often overwhelmed by piercing screams. Most disappointing: no extras.
For its digital shortcomings, Five Across the Eyes stands stall as a shocking and creative slice of indie horror.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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