My Little Eye (2002) — Who’s watching who?

“It’s just the company — they’re messing with you, man.”

Rich’s rating: I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with… D.

Rich’s review: Ever since joining the staff here at Mutant Headquarters, I’ve been deluged by people I know, recommending films that I might like to review. Amongst my friends, as it is with everyone I assume, there are those who you know you can trust; who’s previous recommendations have been films you have mutually enjoyed, and who’s opinion you have come to respect. I’m lucky in that I have a lot of these friends, each of whom can be relied on to bring to my attention certain cinematic gems I might have missed.

One such friend, the same man who turned me on to Donnie Darko, once said to me “Have you seen a film called My Little Eye? I think you’d really like it.” Further conversation about the subject intrigued me, and the mention of a Blair Witch-esque film technique which could add further cinematic interest to the already clever premise finally had me sold. I expressed my intention to watch the film ‘when I got round to it’, and last night I finally did.

So, here’s the deal. Five unrelated twenty-somethings sign up for an internet webcast competition. In true Big Brother-style, the competitors are taken out to a small, isolated house where their every moment in filmed on webcam and broadcast over the internet. They have a curfew after which they all have to be back inside, and if they all last the six months of the game without leaving the house or breaking curfew, they win a cool million dollars.

Of course, while that makes an interesting character study, it doesn’t make much of a movie, so we, the viewers, can be sure that it’s not going to be plain sailing. The actual story of the film begins with the five only having three days to go to complete their six months and win the money — but as skeletons begin to emerge from their respective closets (metaphorically speaking, of course), and strange messages begin to appear, tension mounts in the house and between the housemates; and something’s gotta give.

My Little Eye’s ‘gimmick’ is that the entire film is shot from the point of view of the voyeur — no clever dollys or tracking shots here, just jump cuts, from camera to camera to camera dotted all over the house — in fact, scattered so liberally that some of the locations of the cameras truly boggle the mind; like the one located inside one of the PlayStation control pads, for instance. In darkness, the camera’s flip to ambient mode, showing the action in greenscreen night vision – something which works very well in the early parts of the movie (as those greenscreen effects really do look eerie) and drastically reduce the suspense later in the movie; without us seeing the characters fumbling around in the dark, its hard to relate to them – instead, we view their actions with antiseptic disassociation.

That feeling of disassociation is one of My Little Eye’s major failing points, I felt. Without the immediacy of being ‘in there’ with the characters, we can’t really empathize with them; and so, when things start getting weird, then scary, we watch with interest and curiosity, but never really feel the fear the characters are feeling.

Another problem is that it just never really delivered on the weird and scary that I was expecting. With such a unique setting, the potential was there for some great character conflict and scary weirdness; instead, the shocks are somewhat mundane – and while that makes sense within the context of the story (for reasons which will become clear should you ever see this film), under the circumstances I was really hoping for blood running down walls, total Poltergeist/The Shining freakoutsville. There are some nice touches involving the early food packages left for the housemates, but even that just trails off into nothingness once the second reel of the film begins.

It also suffers from what I have come to call ‘Snake Eyes Syndrome’, from the film with Nicolas Cage. Snake Eyes Syndrome is defined as “when a movie with an interesting an suspenseful plot reveals who the villain is half way through for no reason, thus destroying all tension in the film.” No second guessing about who can be trusted in this film; once we hit the middle of the film, all the suspense is completely obliterated by a revelation which immediately made the film far less interesting. Once again, it makes sense to do it in the context of the film; but it seems that so many of the films positive aspects are sacrificed to the one-trick-pony cam-voyeur POV, it makes you wonder whether it was really worth all that artistic integrity, rather than just making a great film.

The final major disappointment was the wasted opportunity for some great character conflict. After establishing battle lines and relationships between the characters early on, as well as their motivations for staying in the house, once the action starts, those character interactions are mostly forgotten. Again, this isn’t bad writing in the sense that when weird and scary stuff starts happening, you really don’t care who didn’t wash up the macaroni bowls for the past week; it’s just that with those relationships already established, the writers had an opportunity for suspicion, arguments, and factionalism between the housemates – something which never ever emerges.

It’s not all doom and gloom though – the camera trickery, while distant, is very effective; seen from the perspective of the voyeur, the audience really do watch this film exactly as it unfolds over the cameras dotted around the house. It’s a clever touch, and must have been a real pain in the backside to set up. So ten out of ten for effort there.

In addition, the cast play a genuinely interesting bunch of characters (with one quite horrible 2D exception), and the actors play their roles to a standard which I’m willing to call at least ‘decent’, with Kris Lemche as the money-hungry Rex and Laura Regan as the waifish Emma getting the stand-out performances of the film.

But that’s all it really has going for it. Whether I went into this film with expectations too high, I’m not sure – but despite the wonderful setting and clever cinematic tricks, the writers have taken those elements and combined them with a truly mundane plot. All the way through the film I was waiting for the clever trick or twist which would make you go back and re-evaluate everything you have seen. I’m still waiting, and I’ve already returned the DVD to whence it came – I guess that means I’m not getting one.

The bottom line? Ten out of ten for effort, but a big fat zero for execution. Next time I see that friend of mine, I’ll be sure to demand my 2 hours back.

Oh, and something beginning with D? Big. Fat. Disappointment.

Didja notice?

  • Those webcams – they get everywhere!
  • Once more, a random character turns out to be an electrical genius/computer hacker. It must be a course offered at night school or something.
  • The best use of PlayStation cut-scene dialogue in a modern motion picture.
  • Considering everything that’s going on, the characters are awful trusting of random strangers.

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