Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #129
Number of Views: Two
Release Dates: September 10, 2002 (Toronto International Film Festival), October 4, 2002 (UK)
Sub-Genre: Psychological Thriller
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Box Office: £2,566,742 (UK)
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Marc Evans
Producers: Alan Greenspan, Jane Villiers, David Hilton, Jon Finn
Screenplay: David Hilton, James Watkins
Special Effects: John LaForet, Adrien Morot
Visual Effects: Mark Coleran, Matthew Shaw, Matthew Holben
Cinematography: Hubert Taczanowski
Editing: Marguerite Arnold
Studios: StudioCanal, Working Title Films, WT2 Productions
Distributors: Universal Pictures, Momentum Pictures, Focus Features, Odeon Films
Stars: Sean C. W. Johnson, Kris Lemche, Stephen O’Reilly, Laura Regan, Jennifer Sky, Nick Mennell and Bradley Cooper as Travis Patterson
Suggested Audio Candy
Rockwell “Somebody’s Watching Me”
So-called reality TV “reality shows” can be held culpable for so many blatant injustices in recent times. Like a plague which has mutated into something far more sinister, it resembles a modern-day amphitheater where consignment after consignment of charisma-void drones line up like refugees, whilst the baying hordes of fucking clown shoes decide their fate by donating to the producers’ unscrupulous cause. My hemoglobin is coming to the boil at the mere prospect of reflection as this cancer has contaminated so many, and my advice to you would be to leave them be and save yourself while there is still time. As for the contestants themselves, they subscribe religiously to a relentless piece of marketing machinery, worshiping a man-made deity whose only objective is to mock them all in turn for its own twisted amusement.
That said, I have to come clean, as programmes such as Big Brother were an intriguing prospect for a short time and I wasn’t always so quick to banish them to the sidelines. Initially it appeared something of a fascinating social experiment as, by pitting different personalities against each other, locking them down, and throwing away the key, we were provided with fly on the wall perspective and afforded the exclusive chance to enjoy each meltdown. As a shameless voyeur, I was thrilled to learn that cameras were installed in the shower room, and there was always at least one exhibitionist on hand to perform an impromptu strip and bound about the garden, letting it all hang out for the purpose of earning the all-important tacky magazine deal and the short-lived payday it provided. But my interest waned in no time and I remembered that I had far better things to do with my time than watching fake breasts fail to jiggle at speeds up to 15 mph.
Of course, film was soon to take this cue and milk the scenario for all it was worth, and Marc Evans’s My Little Eye was one of the earliest entries into a soon to be inundated sub-genre that investigates the big brother is watching you themeology. If Michael Radford’s Nineteen Eighty-Four had replaced John Hurt with a gaggle of mildly hateful geese then this film would likely be the bi-product. Daniel Liatowitsch and David Todd Ocvirk’s Kolobos actually got in first in 1999 and, in my opinion, did a much better job of exploring the I Spy concept. However, while reality TV was already gaining pace at the time, it was still in its infancy and the film fell pretty much on deaf ears. By 2002, Big Brother had become a global phenomenon and Evans timed his psychological thriller just right to take full advantage of the craze.
So first I guess we should meet and greet our five contestants. Matt (Sean C.W. Johnson), Emma (Laura Regan), Charlie (Jennifer Sky), Danny (Stephen O’Reilly) and Rex (Kris Lemche) are the lucky hopefuls selected to take part in a reality webcast, where they must spend six months in cooped up in a remote mansion to net a cool $1 million. That said, there is one simple rule to abide to. Should any of them vacate their quarters, then they all lose out and no one wins the cash prize. We join the show as it nears its conclusion and tensions between the wannabe millionaires are starting to reach fever pitch. After spending almost half a year getting to know each other’s idiosyncrasies, the knives are out and any facades are starting to drop. More disheartening is their nagging feeling that they’re being watched. No shit guys, that’s kind of the whole idea.
To be fair, it’s not the online audience that troubles them so, more the fact that somebody is clearly getting their sick kicks at their expense. Emma starts to receive strange messages from someone from her past and Danny is presented with a letter claiming that his grandfather has died, accompanied by a firearm pre-loaded with five bullets. Let’s do the math shall we? There’s Matt, Emma, Charlie, Danny, and Rex. By my estimations, that makes five potential victims. Either Danny is being afforded with one practice shot, the opportunity to double-up on whoever he loathes most, or ratings are lousy and the show’s producers are hoping Danny’s hinges are loose enough by this point to put everyone out of their misery, himself inclusive. Then, one night, a man named Travis (Bradley Cooper) shows up at the house unannounced, claiming to be lost. Despite revealing himself to be an internet programmer, he swears blind that he doesn’t recognize any of them or have the faintest idea of their purpose. Time to stroke those chins.
I’ve been perched on the fence for too long with this one and find My Little Eye a tough beast to either adulate or discard. Its Achilles heel is that each contestant is as chilly as their snow-strewn surroundings and every last one of them is gluttonous, egocentric and downright unpleasant. While, it is much more taxing for the film to resonate when there isn’t anyone to root for, I suppose it is in keeping with the “reality” shows it uses as its template. However, they amount to an assortment of liquids and gases and this really hurts the overall experience. Indeed, it could have been wrapped up by tea time had it not been for a couple of cunning little tricks tucked up Evans’ sleeve.
The reveal has every bit the desired effect and, when the shit vacates the shovel, My Little Eye makes its impact hard and fast. The word “snuff” is pretty good at raising the stakes and, when the group learn that they aren’t quite the internet celebrities they had hoped to be, Evans has our full and undivided attention. Suddenly we shuffle back into reclined position, our bladders can remain full for the foreseeable, and the oxygen is sucked out from our respiratory organs. It doesn’t manage to hold the momentum until the conclusion and loses its way once more, but that reprieve is well justified as, for those few moments, we truly feel the chill in the air.
The other memorable sell here is the painstaking DVD treatment it received on its official release. There may be precious little to cling onto for its duration but, if ever there was a film worth acquiring for the extras alone, then My Little Eye is most certainly it. Evans takes full advantage of the opportunities afforded him, with his cunning inclusion of an Interactive Browser Mode, thus enabling the viewer to become the ultimate fly on the wall by observing everything from the housemates’ audition tapes to monitoring their movements from the perspective of alternative cameras. Better yet, you can follow the advancements of whatever is stalking them which makes for a far more enticing proposition.
Now you can see the dilemma facing me as, the film may be unremarkable in the extreme, but the package it arrives in pushes all sorts of boundaries. As movie buffs, we cry out for interaction, and it becomes hard to bite a hand that feeds us precisely that. Ultimately it is a hard film to recommend wholeheartedly but, if you desire a bundle that sings, dances and even has a pair of cymbals strapped round its kneecaps, then My Little Eye is most definitely worth playing voyeur for. Thus, the Crimson Quill’s closing judgement will take this into account and cater for both vantage points. Call it a hidden camera if you will.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: There is nothing much here of great note as grue is never really its agenda, but it’s not totally devoid of the deep red and features a couple of effective dispatches. With the cast being so utterly nauseating, I would have been happier with an out-and-out bloodbath, if truth be known but I still have a couple of alternative camera feeds to check out so perhaps I will be provided with a concealed doozy after all. As for pleasures of the flesh, Evans does come good with a little roving lens action, but not nearly enough to take full advantage of the opportunity presented him. Dagnabbit.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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