Reviews Short Narrative

The Eve (2015) – 1 star

Director: Luca Machnich

Cast: Valerio Santosuosso/Matthew Haddad, Ulf Kusdas, Maurizio Rapotec, Mary Wall, Consuelo Machnich

Running time: 20mins

Many critics would have it that the words “legendary” or “iconic” are bandied about far too easily these days. Fortunately, The Eve gives me no reason to reach for either term. Unfortunately, there is no dodging another staple phrase when it comes to defining Luca Machnich’s short horror: “pretentious crap.”

What little meat there is to be scraped from the carcass of this cinematic turkey takes place in the living room of Simon – a young boy who has become ‘disenchanted’ with his apparently loving family, and the consumer culture which seems to bring out the worst in people each December. His parents, worried he is losing his childish innocence too soon, invite a man posing as Santa to visit their home for a fireside chat. They hope the encounter will rekindle the joy in the jaded youth’s heart – unaware of who precisely they have invited into their home.

Looking at that, it actually appears as though there is quite a solid base from which The Eve might have built a solid seasonal horror from. The problem is that – rather like the grabby, snot-nosed kids gathered in toy stores who seem to have so irked poor Simon – director Machnich has a woeful lack of self-restraint, grasping at any ‘cool’ or ‘edgy’ technique to deploy in his movie, regardless of whether he needs it or not. Following a catalogue of ‘prestigious’ awards (who hasn’t heard of the 12 Months Film Festival of Cluj-Napoca, after all), Machnich’s accompanying statement declared this was so his film could distance itself “from a certain Italian film genre that was exploited until the end of the 19th [sic] century and whose formulas now appear repetitive.” Distanced it certainly is. The resulting garbled mishmash is far cry from the competent filmmaking he has written off.

Among the theories which Machnich has thrown onto his strange bonfire of theories and practices are the interior monologues and psychological narration techniques of US fantasy fiction writer Henry James, Max Lüscher’s theory of the psychological meaning of colour, a visual bubble-gum blend of animation styles, and the dubbing practices of Italian filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Dario Argento. The blackened carcinogenic smoke emitting from said bonfire produces much the same effect as burning plastic; it stings the eye, starves the brain of oxygen, and will likely result in health complications later in life – it is literally anything but a delivery on the director’s statement that he deploy an international film language to explore more complex themes.

First, let’s address the psychological narration techniques. Beyond these moments of soliloquy, the dialogue only seems to consist of a series of jarring and opaque exchanges, where characters churn out expositions for the sake of explaining where the hell we are, and where there are apparently grounds for conflict between people. Without something more organic to play against, the more ethereal, strange internal dialogue between ‘Santa’ and the joyless Simon have nothing to contrast with. We move from drab conversations between parents worried about their son’s loss of innocence, to drawn out discussions where Simon asks to move to the North Pole because he is ‘disenchanted’ with his cheerless surroundings.

Not only does this make the core of the film borderline unwatchable, but there is so little artifice deployed by Simon’s parents that it is hard to relate to Simon’s feeling he has somehow been betrayed. Besides a Christmas tree surrounded by gifts – there is little to suggest he is even being shown the artificial affection he apparently resents. In absence of this, as it emerges his birth parents died, and he is adopted, it quickly comes to feel like Simon is actually just angry because his family aren’t his biological relatives, making him seem more than a little ungrateful.

In terms of deploying Lüscher’s theory of colour, meanwhile, it’s hard to figure why Machnich did so in such an explicit manner. An opening title card literally states that the theory will be used in the film’s coming memory and dream sequences – for example, when Simon’s parents discuss his adoption, the overriding colour is grey, implying ‘concealment’ – but the problem is, it is far from universal. There is very little inherent about Lüscher’s theory, because one, it was used as a test to classify personalities depending on the colour a subject chose, rather than as a way to create psychological responses with the use of a colour palette, and two it is considered by the scientific community as discredited. So unless your audience is going to be Googling Lüscher’s colours during a screening, it is a stretch to assume they will know how any of the colours are intended to make them feel. Worse still, while this arguably also true of Argento films, the sumptuous palettes he deploys also have a function of making a scene otherworldly, or gorgeous – the pallid and sallow hues on display here do not lend any stylistic panache though.

Then, we come to the strange choice to dub several of the actors. Most gratingly Simon comes to resemble a dread-inducing fleshy ventriloquist’s dummy, as Valerio Santosuosso’s jaws flap up and down, while Matthew Haddad’s voice disjointedly delivers his lines. Machnich’s choice here is hard to work out.

Either it was a stylistic choice, aimed at harking back to the era of the Spaghetti Western, when the likes of Leone would film in Italy, with a majority Italian cast, and record English dialogue in post to disguise the film’s origin – or he still harbours the belief that audiences would reject characters that did not speak English. If it is the former, it is a trashy, throw-away gimmick, which serves to detract from what little atmosphere the film billed as a horror managed to build – but considering Machnich’s director statement notes he is the author of a book called Spaghetti Nightmares, it seems this is the most likely reason for it.

I would describe the film’s conclusion as a damp squib, if there had ever felt like any chance of an explosive final sequence. As it is, disconnected members of the supporting cast die off-screen, as the true identity of ‘Santa’ is unveiled to little effect, with his relationship to the characters seemingly cobbled on for twist value. For a film billed as being distinct from ‘formulaic’ and ‘repetitive’ films of old, there is not much fresh or shocking about this horror, although it is thoroughly disenchanting. Maybe that was the point all along…

It might seem that, in the middle of an August heat wave, some 130 days away from ‘the most wonderful time of year,’ I might just not be in the mood for a festive film, centring on a young boy’s encounter with ‘Santa’. No. What I’m actually not in the mood for is a film which builds itself up by belittling others, while failing to do the basics right in favour of gimmickry. The Eve is a tiresome act of cinematic masturbation, which is hoisted by its director’s own petard.

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