Friday, January 30, 2009

Stuart G. Bennett in Jake Barsha's EUGENE

Caught the new horror flick EUGENE at, of all places, the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Maybe not the ideal place for it to world premiere considering the blue tint in the hair of the average festival-attender. Though the older crowd graciously sat through the gore, then skedaddled before the Q and A.

EUGENE was incredibly intense and absolutely gorgeous-looking. Actor Stuart G. Bennett was sympathetic while playing a lonely, possibly antisocial person on the edge of society trying and failing to fit in and make a connection. It reminded me of MAY, in that it was a character study of a fringe person who was relatable to the audience and made us root for him...right up until the bloody end where the movie felt a lot like A SIMPLE PLAN. A high-quality content freshman effort; well-worth your time and money and not at all like the typical cheap American indy film. It's playing in February at both the San Francisco International Film Festival, and at New Filmmakers New York. Definitely try to catch it.

The gist of the plot is that Eugene lives alone, keeps reaching out to people and getting rejected. Sort of the thesis of CRASH...that we're all alone and self-absorbed aholes in LA unless we violently crash into each other...but with horror results.

We see Eugene in his house, in his volunteer job mucking out horse stalls in exchange for jumping lessons (an amazing scene), on an incredibly awkward date where the object of his affection asks him if maybe he isn't actually gay and doesn't know it yet...Like MAY, these are painful encounters that have a hyper-stylized directing and lighting feel to them that is almost satirical.

Meanwhile, we see a young straight Hollywood couple stuck in poverty, drugs and hustling. Actually, they are the only flaw in the movie...They are not up to the calibre of the movie or Bennett's performance...better actors and some scene trims of the couple would have elevated this film to five star status.

When Eugene decides to explore whether or not he is gay, he picks up the male part of the couple and can't go through with it...plunging him into even darker isolation. The hustler returns home to his girlfriend and they continue to fight about his heroin use, their prostitution, her toddler, to the point that we wonder if they're going to break up or actually move to NYC like she wants.

At the stables, Eugene makes a bad choice totally born out of his personality traits, and accidentally kills a horse he loves. The stable owner berates him and fires him. Back alone again at his creepy house, Eugene phones his only friend, his grandmother, and we learn a startling secret I don't want to spoil, because it's so well done and heartbreaking. Rejected now by everyone, he snaps and begins building something very sinister in his garage.

With Eugene and the couple at their low points, their worlds collide and Eugene hires them both to come home with him. They get there and make up, having sex in the bathroom with Eugene watching and feeling more alone and confused and asexual than ever. Totally cut off from society. Until he invites them both into the garage to show them what he's been working on and paid them to use...and fans of both horror and psychological thrillers will NOT be disappointed. Nice twist, a comment on society, AND gore.

The festival program billed EUGENE as a "disturbing pyschological thriller", but that's open to's no SAW, but it gets intensely violent at the end. Again, MAY is the best comparison, which should be enough of a ringing endorsement for most gorehounds. To sum up: great script, amazing directing/camera, fresh sets (The LA valley you don't usually see, and cool use of horses), great lead, mediocre supporting actors, solid music, fun well-acted cameo by bassist Zander of THE CIRCLE JERKS. It's a really well done, solid movie. I would totally see it again.

The Q & A was the usual, thankfully with no Hollywood types quizzing about budget, equipment, etc. Stuart G. Bennett was told by one older gentleman that he is going to be a big star, and I have to agree. He had amazing reaction shots and looks great onscreen. No news about what's up next for writer/director Jake Barsha, but they have already been contacted by a bunch of distributors. It was the only American film in competition for the New Visions Award.

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