Austin Film Festival: One Eyed Girl

Psychology and psychopathy from the land down under

Aussie director Nick Matthews' feature debut is a queasy little head trip of the best kind. Equal parts drama and thriller, and dotted with a skewed sense of utopian idealism vs. modern mental medicine, it pits an unraveling psychologist against a backwoods community of spiritual seekers, with unpredictable results.

"In the land of the blind the one eyed girl is queen," and that girl is the delicate empath Grace (the excellent Tilda Cobham-Hervey). While passing out "culty" pamphlets on a subway, her gaze falls on Travis (Mark Leonard Winter, a thoroughly jaded shrink who's on the fast track to total burnout. He shies away from her spiel (other passengers are not so kind). After the death of a former patient and lover, his professional standing, his mental health, and his entire life begin to collapse around him, and eventually he seeks out Grace’s commune with a less than open mind. Still, people can change, and while Travis has his own demons, many of the other members of the group seem to be worse off yet considerably more at ease. What’s going on here? And how will Travis’ rational, skeptical (if damaged) mind deal with a church that seems to be helping the helpless, when all he can do is dole out meds to his five-minute patients?

Co-scripting with Craig Behenna, Matthews’ makes the most of pitting Travis’s anxiety-ridden, modern metropolitan melee against the solitude of the farm, where the unreadable Father Jay (a bruising Steve Le Marquand) holds sway over his flock of shattered human beings. Rituals designed to shake out the ordinary madness of modern living are the norm on the farm, as are some of the seedier and increasingly questionable aspects of New Age messianic hoodoo. To his credit, Matthews keeps things percolating at a slow boil. The suspense is stomach-knotting throughout.

One Eyed Girl contrasts the supposedly civilized city dweller against a back-to-nature (with a dollop of extreme physical punishment, natch) congregation, and all the while challenges its audience to sympathize, at the very least, with these post-modern Luddites. But, of course, nothing ever goes entirely to plan in the Garden of Eden, and the film’s final moments recall nothing so much as … well, far be it from us to spoil the un-fun.

Buoyed by solid acting across the board and some splendidly dread-inducing cinematography from Jody Muston (Michael Darren’s atmospheric score is equally, appropriately distressing), One Eyed Girl is a profoundly affecting film. It may even start some heated conversations post-screening, depending on whether or not viewers have taken their meds that day.

One Eyed Girl screens again Tuesday October 28, 9:30pm, at the Galaxy Highland Theater.

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Austin Film Festival, One Eyed Girl, Nick Matthews, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, AFF 2014, Austin Film Festival 2014

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