FF2011: 'Two Eyes Staring' ('Zwart Water')

Kids doing the craziest things (like murder, haunting etc)

'Two Eyes Staring' at a Hollywood remake
'Two Eyes Staring' at a Hollywood remake (Image courtesy of Elbert Van Strien)

There's always something a little unnerving about a narrator: That eerie, know-everything voice manipulating the viewer's thinking. But it is more unnerving when a supposedly omniscient info-dump comes from the mouth of a small child.

Two Eyes Staring is, at first glance, a very traditional tale of a child in a (possibly) haunted house. Cue highly conventional set-up: Christine (Hadewych Minis) inherits a run-down mansion and transplants her husband Paul (Barry Atsma) and nine-year-old daughter Lisa (first time actress Isabelle Stokkel) into the creepy, decrepit, overgrown house. How up-to-stereotype-code is it? It even has a locked cellar.

So what was so entrancing about this that Charlize Theron picked up the rights last year?

Where Two Eyes Staring exceeds the many conventions of the genre is in keeping a critical lens on Lisa. As a series of increasingly eerie incidents overtake the family, she flutters from victim to unreliable narrator.

Director Elbert van Strien's ingenious conceit is to explore the line between supernatural possession and diagnosable psychosis. There are subtle design touches, especially around Christine, that serve as a constant reminder that, uncanny intervention or not, Lisa is hardly a trustworthy source. The tension comes not from easy scares or jumps, but in the terrifying possibilities of the juvenile psyche.

It is hard not to see a J-Horror influence in any modern creepfest with a spooky girl. Even the original name – Zwart Water (trans. black water) – cannot help but evoke Hideo Nakata's similarly-themed Honogurai Mizu no Doko Kara – aka Dark Water. However, TV veteran van Strien maintains an undeniably European aura. Guido van Gennep's shadow-draped cinematography gives a mordant aura to the damp Belgian countryside, while the slowburn tension – cued up by Han Otten and Maurits Overduve's discordant, grating, slicing score – is almost elegiac.

The overall effect is the kind of hidden horror that most studio creepfests aim for but seemingly cannot hit. So this raises the question: Can the Theron remake keep the creep? Let's hope those staring eyes are not blank.

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Fantastic Fest, ff2011, Two Eyes Staring, Zwart Water, Fantastic Fest, FF2011, Elbert van Strien, Hadewych Minis, Barry Atsma, Isabelle Stokkel, Fantastic Fest 2011

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