The Movie Waffler Screamfest LA 2023 Review - EIGHT EYES | The Movie Waffler

Screamfest LA 2023 Review - EIGHT EYES

Eight Eyes review
An American couple is befriended by a mysterious local while holidaying in Serbia.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Austin Jennings

Starring: Emily Sweet, Bruno Veljanovski, Bradford Thomas

Eight Eyes poster

Were it not for the atrocities committed under their flag in the not so distant past, you might feel sorry for how Serbians have been so negatively portrayed in western media. Serbian filmmakers haven't exactly done much to dissuade such stereotypes, mind you. After all, the most famous movie to come out of the country is the notorious A Serbian Film, hardly a favourite of the nation's tourist board. Eight Eyes is another American film filled with negative stereotypes of Serbians, but it's actually shot in Serbia with a local crew. And it does allow Serbia to stick up for itself in the face of ill-informed western scorn, slyly commenting on how Americans have a ghoulish fascination with taking their vacations in countries they were dropping bombs on not so long ago.

Eight Eyes review

On the surface, Eight Eyes could easily be lumped in with the wave of 2000s era horror movies in which innocent Americans were terrorised by sadistic slavs in the less scenic corners of Eastern Europe. It's often surmised that those movies, which gained the collective label of "torture porn", were a reaction to the apprehension Americans felt about so many of their young people being sent to fight in the Middle East, just as movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre gained popularity during the Vietnam war. It's telling that despite America being the invading aggressor in both cases, in the cinematic allegories for the conflicts it was the locals who were portrayed as the savages.

The innocent Americans here are Cass (Emily Sweet) and Gav (Bradford Thomas), a young couple whose marriage seems to be on the rocks. Presumably in an attempt to refresh their relationship, they've taken a trip to Serbia, where Cass explores her spontaneity by crashing a local wedding. The following morning they meet a genuine guest of the wedding, a local young man who likes to go by the moniker of "Saint Peter" (Bruno Veljanovski). The loud and boorish Peter immediately repels Cass but Gav finds him oddly charming. Peter insists on taking the pair to a remote village to visit a bombed out former factory. Cass, who has clearly seen enough movies of this ilk to know where this is headed, initially protests but is guilt-tripped by Gav into going along.

Eight Eyes review

Director Austin Jennings and co-writer Matthew Frink play around with our expectations of such a premise, and they ask us to question our prejudices. Saint Peter's glass eye gives him a sinister look, but isn't that simply ableism on our part? He's coarse and vulgar, but maybe that's just his culture? When he gets angry at Cass and Gav for not paying attention as he tells the story of how his village was bombed, isn't his irritation justified at their lack of respect? Cass and Gav represent the two sides of the American cultural divide, the former viewing anything alien with suspicion, the latter finding anything foreign condescendingly quaint and exotic.

But as this is a movie that has been debuting at horror festivals we know where it's going, so it's no surprise when things take a dark and violent turn in the second half. It's heavily indebted to many horror movies that have gone before, with a climax that goes out of its way to evoke The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Deliverance with a naked Leatherface stand-in and a mentally challenged yokel playing a mouth harp. But what makes Eight Eyes stand out from its many peers is how it feels like a product of genuine affection for and knowledge of the scuzzy world of grindhouse cinema. Shot on grainy 16mm film, were it not for the appearance of cellphones and internet cafes you might mistake it for a lost movie of the '70s or '80s. Along with the explicit reference to Tobe Hooper's American classic, the film nods to European exploitation cinema. The location of the climactic atrocities is the sort of abandoned mansion you might find in a Jean Rollin vampire thriller, and the use of floating leaves in a late scene plays like a visual nod to the similar use of feathers in Michele Soavi's Stage Fright.

Eight Eyes review

Eight Eyes is the first original production of Vinegar Syndrome, a boutique bluray label known for loving restorations of forgotten horror movies of the late 20th century. It's a perfect choice as Jennings' film resembles the sort of psychotronic oddities the label specialises in. It's an ideal movie for the late night slot at a film festival, as it gets increasingly weird and esoteric towards the end, just at the point when the audience's own two eyes are beginning to feel heavy, when brief dreams begin to blur with the images onscreen. By the end you're not entirely sure what you've just watched, but you know it was a movie that was both unique in its vision while betrothed to genre fare of the past.

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