Two Eyes Staring

Two Eyes Staring


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Those pesky kids, eh? What are we going to do with them? Ever since Damien and Carrie lost it back in the Seventies, the sight of a single-child family is a sure-fire indication of trouble on the horizon.

This time around, we're in Holland, where the lives of Christine (Hadewych Minis) and Paul (Barry Atsma) are ticking along nicely with daughter Lisa (Isabelle Stokkell) when word comes through that Christine's mum - who they never visit - has died and bequeathed her the family home in Belgium. The family go to check out the place and, this being a film about things that go bump in the night, it turns out not to be a two-bed semi on a housing estate, but rather an isolated elderly pile with ivy clambering up the wall, doors that last saw an oil can round the turn of the century and a lockable basement that, as anyone who has ever seen a genre film in this sort of house knows, will clearly pose problems later. Christine, who, the film hints from the start, has something hidden in her own mental basement, isn't too keen on the place but Paul sees the whole affair as a stroke of good luck and it's not long before the packing crates come out.

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If the grounds of the house weren't lonely enough for poor little Lisa, her mum starts a new job - lying that she was childless to do secure it - and dad also gets some sort of shiftwork, meaning that she is left to her own devices. School seems to offer little in the way of friendship, either, with her brattish cousin Peter (Philippe Colpaert) the sort of 'friendly' face who delights in telling her that her grandmother "dried and turned green before they found her". In short, her isolation is complete... which is perhaps why the sudden appearance of a creepy little girl in the cellar doesn't freak her out quite as much as you might expect.

The new arrival - or, perhaps, old resident - claims to be Karen (Charlotte Arnoldy) her mum's dead twin, who was murdered by her, to boot. All of which is news to Lisa, not least because her mum has always maintained she is an only child. But the facts seem to be borne out by a sinister diary discovery.

Elbert van Strien is playing around with the idea of what is real and what is imagined - is Karen really trying to possess Lisa or is she, like a previous 'friend' of the girl's, just a figment of her overactive imagination? The big problem being that there is not nearly enough doubt created in the viewer's mind as to what the answer to this question is.

Despite some early good atmospherics and creepy camerawork, which mean the first couple of appearances by Karen have a decent shock factor, much of the tension drains from the movie once she and Lisa embark on an uneasy friendship. Where recent similar 'spooky kid' films such as The Orphanage managed to retain a very real sense of threat, here the ghost feels too benign, at least towards Lisa, to keep the fear factor high enough. The scoring attempts to compensate for this with glissando strings all over the place, but since there is rarely any proper visual pay-off this soon loses effectiveness, too.

The structure of the second half of the film is also flimsy. A co-worker is introduced - in a scene so melodramatic it seems to have been cut from an entirely different movie - merely to move the story along and the plot twists offer little that is new. A rabbit called Daisy arriving in the household, for example, might as well be called, Only Has Daisy To Live. There are enough genre set-pieces to keep the story moving and glimpses of what might have been in terms of tension and emotion, but although van Strien clearly has plenty of talent, he is undone by a constant seen-and-heard-it-all-before-done-better feeling.

Reviewed on: 16 Jun 2010
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When a family move to the countryside, their daughter befriends a little girl who 'lives' in the basement.
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Director: Elbert van Strien

Writer: Elbert van Strien, Paulo van Vliet

Starring: Hadewych Minis, Barry Atsma, Isabelle Stokkel, Charlotte Arnoldy, Warre Borgmans, Philippe Colpaert, Els Dottermans, Viviane de Muynck, Bart Slegers, Lisa Smit, Tibo Vandenborre, Bastiaan Rook

Year: 2010

Runtime: 112 minutes

Country: Netherlands


EIFF 2010

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If you like this, try:

The Omen
The Orphanage
The Others