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Five Across the Eyes poster

 
 
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Five Across The Eyes
cast: Sandra Paduck, Danielle Lilley, Mia Yi, Angela Brunda, and Jennifer Barnett

directors: Greg Swinson and Ryan Thiessen

94 minutes (18) 2007
widescreen ratio 16:9
Lions Gate DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Greg Swinson and Ryan Thiessen's Five Across The Eyes for its first 30 minutes is a despondent experience. Shot in dishwater vision, the image is foxed, the colour shat out of it, the fall out of a war between video and night. We are thrust into the company of five teenage girls on a road trip, prattling on in minor bitch mode, lost on some backwoods lanes outside the range of mobile signals and minus a sat-nav; moviemakers are shortly going to have a real struggle denying technological advances as they tsunami in, shuffling their stories back into a time before or finding locations that defy the apparatus ('Camel Trek Terror', 'Sahara Oasis Slaughterhouse' and 'Antarctic Kill' perhaps?). The picture quality permitted me to turn the film into a radio show in these early moments as I went to fix a drink - it was doubtful after all that I was missing out on any visual magic. It continues with the terrorism of the girls by a psychotic woman in a suit, Hispanic in appearance, and by the end of the first act there has been the scatological tick-box listing of urine, excretion and vomit, all of which are little more than desperate shock tactics. Half an hour of our sufferance is then rewarded.

At this point the bitch psycho catches up with their vehicle again and the five flee the car into the impenetrable black night... and they scream in unison. The antagonist is billed only as 'the driver': and drive this film she does, in the abject fear she instils through her appalling behaviour. Bitch psycho hits her headlights and we see the five girls painful situation. It is a simple but effective sequence and though we are probably familiar with similar little constructs, it feels new, the result of the perfect timing of its visual and aural elements.

A minute on and the cleverness is re-encapsulated, a second notch on the stick, in another bold, petty but shameful episode. Janice (Danielle Lilley) returns to the car to a background soundtrack of screams and gunshots. She proceeds to raid the medicine box, emptying it of every last elastoplast adhering them hastily to a number of minor cuts and abrasions she has acquired on her face and arms. Half a dozen are ridiculously applied to her face as her friends shriek and a shotgun explodes repeatedly in the dark of the surrounding woods. Still early in this real-time assault Janice selfishly attends her looks, prizing her appearance over her friends lives and we are galled by her attitude in the moment, the very distinct possibility that her girlfriends are being blasted to bits as she worries about future scars noticed by possibly future dates.

Later in the film Janice will forget herself again at a point when each of the girls have been subjected to their own horrific dramas and injuries. This time we forgive her the comic action as she casually checks her face in the rear-view mirror, angling it towards her briefly, as by this time she is clearly finding a momentary escape from the shock, a return to narcissistic ordinariness that for the immediate future there can only be glimmers of for her wrecked body and mind. This is not a film, as was initially suspected, in which not much is happening. It actually turns out that Five Across The Eyes is a nigh alchemically structured horror film with several ideas in occurrence operating on more than one level.

Five Across The Eyes (an odd title but blink and you will miss it in the opening titles as the words fade and momentarily the acronym is revealed) is a psychological horror show that is impossible to surmise in one sentence in all the approaches interwoven in its aim to mentally and emotionally exhaust the viewer. So unremitting are its pace and its horrors once the film is most assuredly underway that it is only ex post facto that the full box of tricks can only be fully realised. The camerawork at the outset had been shoddy, handheld, perhaps confusing to some of the Blair Witch Project generation who might at first assume it is the responsibility of a sixth character in the car. I don't want Blair Witch and few do want Blair Witch. Thankfully, it turns out not to be one of the 'classic' horror films learned from and incorporated here. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, The Evil Dead, Dawn Of The Dead and Cannibal Holocaust are each evoked, some throughout, others in a shot.

The structure is that of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which is to say a slow introduction followed by an unending hour of horror and terrorism. The survivalist best of Wes Craven at his peak is of equal importance as the girls find strength, come to terms with the horror, overcome their shock and retaliate. The Evil Dead is simply brought up in the car of five, and Cannibal Holocaust in a moment when the girls finally overcome their tormentor, resembling the moment the abusers are overcome by the natives at the end of the earlier film. The way in which the film chooses to move its focus from one character to several is intriguing and it is only once you remove yourself from the film that you work out that the focus is on none of the girls but on their transport. To be more precise, the car is the star, or the seventh feature character, just as in Dawn Of The Dead the mall became the fifth main cast member. I am still uncertain if the camera ever leaves the car, perhaps with an idea to capturing the claustrophobia of its cubic capacity, the entrapment and ensnarement of its interior space.

The six living cast members are female and the directors are to be commended on the hiring of a pair of female script consultants, Mandi Trame and Tara Monroe, ensuring that the dialogue of the smart and lippy cast, which one suspects to be sometimes ad-libbed, remains acutely modern and honestly girlish. It leads to some dark humour that often speeds past virtually unnoticed in the maelstrom. A lot was made of Amy Jones' 1983 'feminist' slasher flick Slumber Party Murders, an overrated and plodding affair that notoriously included a power drill as a phallic weapon. It took two male directors working cooperatively and harmoniously with two female writers to create a horror adventure in which the behaviour of its all-girl cast is one of realistic response, genuine shock, cattiness and reaction in colloquial sorority chatter. Several templates are intermeshed in a remarkable, magical configuration with no jutting and an unaffected flow.

The DVD extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette, and deleted sequences. The documentary reveals an intelligent and rude female cast that leads to my assumption that dialogue was captured on the hoof. The deleted scenes include a lengthy and sadly jettisoned set-up as the only girl not at the steering wheel and with two good hands is instructed to remove fishhooks from the mouth of another. With a nearly blind driver, the car is moving at 80mph over rough roads, and the girl conducting the operation having left most of her senses behind her is lilting and terrifyingly fearless approaching the task like someone extracting blades of grass from someone's hair. Several terrific elements cooperate to frightening effect though admittedly the film is gruelling enough without. That is the great thing about DVD; lost excellence becomes supplementary standalone thrills.
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