4 Apr 2022
Andrew Arguello, MJ Palo
Allan Scott Tamshen
Nicole Epper, Jasmeet Baduwalia, Christopher Blumen
A horror-turned-detective-comedy, Black Eyes dabbles in ideas of rape revenge and blood-smeared lines of morality.
Beginning as a moody Halloween piece, lights flicker and tension hangs over the end of a date between a sinister man and a seemingly helpless woman. The man seems to openly admit to murdering his wife before quickly moving on in what is the first in a series of moments of awkward exposition.
The room is overlit, with blues and reds saturating the frame beyond presenting any tension. The man’s attempt to drug her is quickly rendered useless, as she has already turned the tables with a syringe, injecting him with a paralytic in a way that reverses the penetrative violation associated with violence against women. The message here seems clear; the film joining many others from recent years in a long-overdue reckoning with sexual assault which uses horror and violence to effectively enforce a rape revenge fantasy as catharsis.
The manifestation of this is gruesome, although the aggressive lighting puts the special effects on full naked display, again sucking out any real fear from what is otherwise a very shocking way to murder someone. You would expect at this point the film would pursue the thread of twisted killings to give brutal masculinity a taste of its own Rohypnol. Any promise of this coming to fruition, however, is unfortunately snuffed out.
The aggressive militant revenge vigilantism is replaced by a sudden shift into an awkward buddy cop dynamic between our now-sanitised femme fatale and her elder police partner. As they examine the scene of the crime, the two engage in stunted, awkward dialogue. The banter between them is intended to be playful, yet leans into flirtatious taunting at times, and comes across as creepy especially given the nature of their relationship. Oddly he is her step-father, which feels like a strangely specific and unnecessary wrinkle to add to their dynamic. I like the idea of the young cop having a moral crusade to wage, yet being too inexperienced to escape out from under the thumb of condescending superiors. This however implies the possibility of nepotism, undermining her position on the force, and generally leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Their interactions are filled with awkward pauses, and odd conversational detours to tell dad jokes while stood in front of a mutilated dead body. The tonal inconsistency from this undermines any intent of horror from the beginning and dispels any idea that the film could be taking its original conceit of rape revenge seriously. When their conversation isn’t painful humour, it’s overplayed detective cliches such as the following exchange:
“He’s saying you can’t catch me. Well yes I can.”
“No. We can.”
The tone changes again to dip back into horror, utilising the black eye effect which was the most effective element of the opening scene. The aggressive contrast between her vengeful self and clinical self is then actualised with a dialogue through a mirror. Her darker mirror self acts as a splinter personality to allow her to act out the more disturbing acts of justice. An idea often employed by horror and sci-fi, the visual conceit of a distinct appearance allows her split consciousness to stand out.
Her mirror self also functions to exposit a further, and largely counterintuitive, motivation. On top of the vengeful gendered violence, her sinister half reminds her she has to embrace the darkness in order to catch her father’s killer. This contradicts its own premise, now introducing a second reason for killing, and a much less interesting one at that. By undermining its intent, the film left me confused, trying to reconcile too many colliding ideas and tones which could only be resolved in a much longer film, or even TV series.