Eight Eyes


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Eight Eyes
"Austin Jennings builds up his story from little details whilst viewers are gripped by the tension between the three leads." | Photo: courtesy of Frightfest

Serbian women wear their wedding rings on their right hands, he tells her. If she does that, no man will bother her. Wearing it on her left hand makes her look like a widow.

Is it just a friendly piece of advice? Gav (Bradford Thomas, her husband, is inclined to make light of such things, to treat her as if she’s being too sensitive in that way that well-intentioned men, who have no idea how the world really works, often do. The implication that it’s okay for men to sexually harass widows seems to escape him; likewise the fact that Saint Peter (Bruno Veljanovski) is being way too personal towards his wife Cass (Emily Sweet) for somebody whom they only just met at a wedding. Not even the wedding of somebody they knew, though that part is Cass’ fault. She wanted to gatecrash one in order to get the full cultural experience out of their trip. They’re both about to get an experience they didn’t bargain for.

Tourism often offers good potential to horror filmmakers. It can reflect the imbalance of power in the world whilst also creating vulnerability in privileged people who are out of their element. In a Belgrade park, Cass and Gav wander around a spomenik, awed by its concrete strangeness, apparently unaware of the weight of its history or how that might echo in the present. This is just the first stop on their planned tour, but when they bump into wedding guest Saint Peter again on the train, which Gav treats as a coincidence, he persuades them to make an unscheduled stop in his hometown of Vranje. There, he says, he can show them the real Serbia and its hidden wonders. Perhaps, in return, they can one day give him a tour of New York.

The real Serbia turns out to mean an abandoned factory where Gav enjoys taking photographs and Cass becomes more and more uncomfortable. Is their Serbian companion deliberately working to drive a wedge between them? The three characters see the world in very different ways. Viewers – especially those familiar with horror, such as members of the Frightfest audience to whom this screened – will see the US couple getting further and further away from the world they understand, with fewer and fewer opportunities for escape.

Austin Jennings builds up his story from little details whilst viewers are gripped by the tension between the three leads. At the wedding, men joke about the symbolic kidnapping of the bride, referencing the supposedly traditional way in which Serbian families were expanded. Saint Peter and his family sell watches – whether knock-offs or stolen, it’s not immediately clear – and he tries to give Cass a ring with a ticking clock face on it. On the train, Cass suffers from tinnitus which later gives way to auditory hallucinations. A drive to Skopje adds to what has become an unwitting tour of historic battlefields. Whenever the trio meet strangers, Saint Peter deals with them brusquely, showing none of the friendliness which he presents to Gav and Cass. It can be exciting being on the side of power, but of course, they have little real power of their own.

When the film finally flips and shows its teeth in the third act, it takes a direction which few viewers will anticipate. There are reminders of the brutality of more recent conflicts, but these are submerged within layers and layers of psychedelic weirdness. Fragments of national tradition, from costuming to the decoration of a shrine, mingle with something much more personal to the Serbian characters, conjuring up a sense of the supernatural which is deeply rooted yet unique. You will need to be paying attention to spot all the subtle ways in which it is woven into the earlier part of the film – you cannot, as Serbians say, be short on eyes – but you will be rewarded with a special kind of horror which has enduring power.

Well honed performances and a directorial approach which will keep you constantly alert to what you’re not seeing keep this uncomfortable thriller taut and believable even at its most absurd. It mixes the exotic and the day to day with a confidence which continually reminds viewers that they are the tourists here, that it is their perspective which is out of place. Some things, once seen, will stay with a person forever. In seeking to understand how Serbians see the world, Cass opens herself up to a history without mercy.

Reviewed on: 25 Aug 2023
Share this with others on...
Eight Eyes packshot
At the breaking point of their dysfunctional marriage, a couple take a trip through Serbia. After meeting a mysterious local who eagerly offers to be their guide, they embark on an impromptu sightseeing expedition that soon takes a series of sinister turns.

Director: Austin Jennings

Writer: Austin Jennings

Starring: Emily Sweet, Brad Thomas, Bruno Veljanovski

Year: 2023

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: US

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Don't Look Now