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Close Your Eyes   B+

First Look Pictures

Year Released: 2002 (USA: 2004)
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Nick Willing
Writers: Nick Willing, William Brookfield (based on the novel by Madison Smartt Bell)
Cast: Goran Visnjic, Shirley Henderson, Miranda Otto, Paddy Considine, Corin Redgrave, Claire Rushbrook, Fiona Shaw.

Review by Rob Vaux

On the surface, Close Your Eyes is rife with the sad clichés of the supernatural thriller. Occult serial killer threatens small creepy child who can only be reached by a guilt-ridden psychic whose strange powers hide a dark past and a plucky cop whose superiors don't believe her mystic bent to the crimes, blah, blah, blah ad nauseam. The film took three years to reach U.S. screens and then promptly vanished without a trace... normally a sure sign of the Stinky. But Nick Willing's nifty take on the genre succeeds in the way most superior B-movies do -- by paying attention to the details. With stylish grace and a strong sense creepiness (not to mention a couple of solid leads), Willing brings a memorable flourish to his material and turns Close Your Eyes from a direct-to-video also-ran into a marvelously hidden gem.

It starts with the cast, who show depth and complexity in what could have easily been stock roles. Goran Visnjic plays a hypnotherapist just moved to London, hoping to outrun a secretive tragedy caused by his apparent paranormal powers. He sees things sometimes: hints and impressions of information no normal human being could know. But he's reluctant to use or even acknowledge them, preferring instead to help harried executives quit smoking. Then a spunky policewoman (Shirley Henderson) comes into his clinic, and spots something unusual in his method. She mentions a case she's working on -- a child who escaped a fearsome serial killer and who now seemingly cannot speak -- and asks him to help. Willing relies on the two of them to carry the load early on, first involving us in their dilemma and then using the strength of their performances to win us over. Visnjic is understated and subtle, allowing his natural charisma to accentuate his character's reluctant involvement, while Henderson -- one of those stalwart British actresses who turns in great supporting performances that no one ever notices -- brings an earnest conviction to her dogged investigator.

With them in our corner, Willing can then develop the mystery with confidence and flair. The serial-killer motif is decidedly old hat, but Close Your Eyes gives its particular villain a fascinating motivation, as well as some neat visual kicks to lend him a proper sense of menace. Naturally, the occult gobbledygook starts to pile up, as a weird paranormal expert (Paddy Considine) arrives with some handy plot exposition involving ancient sorcerers, symbolic tattoos, and whatnot. But Willing trundles them out with eye-popping assuredness, punctuated by slowly-building suspense that makes for a delicious atmosphere. The occult details feel well researched and authentic, their hermetic flavor subtly distinct from the more shopworn satanic themes to which we're accustomed. And while Willing knows when to ratchet up the excitement, he keeps the overt gore in reserve, saving it for a few well-placed moments of delightfully squirmy nastiness.

The clever use of such elements is vital, for Close Your Eyes remains stubbornly genre-bound at its heart. Depressing reminders arise in those moments when it can't transcend its material -- the old "points-on-the-map-form-a-pentagram" shtick, for example, or those exasperating scenes where the hero plunges into danger when any sensible person would just call the cops. The supporting cast never quite matches the gumption of the leads, and a pre-Lord of the Rings Miranda Otto is wasted in her thankless role as Visnjic's wife. But if the film never escapes its drive-in credentials, it still shows how much can be achieved within such confines. It rewards aficionados with sharp, engaging entertainment, demonstrating more than enough imagination to make the exercise worthwhile. The results are scary, intense, and, for the right sort of audience, a whole lot of fun. Its solid horror pedigree is all the more enjoyable because it comes as such a surprise -- forgotten in a dusty corner and just waiting for the right fan to find it.

* * *

Editor's Note: Close Your Eyes is one of many neglected genre gems spotlighted in the new William Shatner DVD Club. For an annual fee of $47.99 (or $3.99 per DVD), the Shatner DVD Club will send you a DVD every month -- an overlooked sci-fi, fantasy, or horror film that has Shatner's personal seal of approval. Other featured titles include Ginger Snaps, Immortal, and King of the Ants. The club even has a 30-day free trial, which will score you a free DVD whether or not you decide to stay on as a club subscriber. For fans of genre fare outside the mainstream, the William Shatner DVD Club could be a real bargain.

Review published 03.01.2006.

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