My Little Eye Review
Big Brother, Temptation Island or Survivor - pick none, pick one or pick all. Reality television has, for a number of years, dominated peak time television schedules and, when we are exhausted of watching lowly members of the public sacrifice their dignity for a shot at a BBC3 light entertainment show, there's no shortage of celebrities (and we mean that in the loosest way possible) who are desperately clutching for one more chance at stardom. The question that My Little Eye asks is how far can participants be pushed to provide reality entertainment and what happens when they get pushed too far.
My Little Eye
opens with the interview tapes of five strangers - Danny, Emma, Charley, Rex and Matt - all of whom have applied to take part in a reality webcast to live in a house for six months. The prize is $1 million and the only rule is that if one person leaves the house, everyone loses.
The group meet for the very first time, as is typical of Big Brother, when they enter the house and their days are spent jogging around the grounds, finding the food parcel that is delivered daily (each time to a different location) and, given the lack of challenges set by the organisers of the contest, watching videos, telling stories, eating and sleeping. However, with the end-date approaching and the parcels from outside no longer containing food but objects that bring back unpleasant memories for each contestant, the organisers, whoever they are, are determined to bring the contest to a quick conclusion if only to keep the viewers satisfied.
With the possible exception of looking at their faces reflected off flat, cocaine-flecked surfaces, filmmakers love little more than belittling sensationalist television even when faced with audiences who yawn, scratch and go back to watching Big Brother. Unfortunately, therefore, rather than being as innovative as it might think it is, My Little Eye is only the latest of a number of films that examines reality television and fantasises of a point where entertainment becomes ever more sensationalist to increase revenue through viewing figures or Internet subscriptions.
What, another one? 'fraid so...
Still, within the first twenty minutes or so, My Little Eye is quite wonderful - the setting of almost all the action in a traditionally creaky isolated house, quiet but for the constant whirr of security cameras, brings this film closer to the type of series it is trying to replicate than anything else. It also helps that the characters are clearly uncomfortable with one another and their six months together looks to have been difficult. The first nagging doubt soon surfaces - how does the contest end? With no clear conclusion, there can be no doubt whatsoever that something terrible is going to happen and, you know, it soon does.
In as much as it all looks right, there is also the feeling that, thanks to the overwhelming amount of reality television actually shown on one of the many channels currently available, we've simply seen all this before. From Nigel Kneale's 1968 television film, The Year Of The Sex Olympics to Daniel Minahan's Series 7: The Contenders, fictional instances of reality television have always been seen to move ever closer to the edge of what is morally acceptable. With the exception of The Year Of The Sex Olympics, which is distinguishable by being one of the first, most of these titles are largely redundant - the death of Michael Lush, a participant in what ought to have been a live stunt on Noel Edmond's The Late, Late Breakfast Show in 1986 proved that truth can often be stranger than fiction can cinema's spin on reality television has all the appeal of a topical comedian still telling Thatcher jokes.
Before going any further, readers who wish to avoid spoilers should follow this link to the cast section, which skips the next few paragraphs, which discuss a plot twist one hour in that destroys much of the edginess present in the opening act and that takes the film to its conclusion.
For readers unfamiliar with the term, snuff describes a film, video or website that shows an actual murder that was carried out specifically for entertainment. If you're interested David Kerekes and David Slater's book, Killing For Culture, is one of the more interesting books on the subject. Regardless of your view on whether snuff exists or not, the problem with using it as an idea in fiction is that, if not handled correctly, it can become a film's only idea and that's not good when that's all there is. Such is the result, though, when directors and writers decide to do 'edgy' and believe that snuff is the path that will enable this creative shift, regardless of how misplaced that is (cf. Joel Schumacher with 8mm or Anthony Waller's Mute Witness). My Little Eye, however, is no exception to this rule. Within minutes of Rex discovering the website on which the video footage from the house is shown, armed as he is with a laptop and enough hacking software to bounce an Internet signal off a GPS satellite, which is a little odd considering the other rules in the house, the Company rep planted within the house sets about killing off the occupants as soon as possible. After all the great work from earlier in the film, it's disappointing that it limps to this conclusion.
Back with us...then you are just in time to hear that the case do an adequate job if not outstanding with Kris Lemche as Rex and Laura Regan as Emma being the standout actors. There were rumours surrounding this film that the cast were chosen in the same way as contestants would be in an actual reality television show, via newspaper and Internet advertisements but a quick trawl through IMdB will show they are all jobbing actors with previous experience both in film and television.
Normally, this would not have been given a section by itself but My Little Eye on DVD has been given a choice of methods by which the film can be viewed - Standard Viewing Mode and Interactive Browser Mode. The latter allows the viewer to watch the film as though they were one of the small number of subscribers to the Internet site as shown in the film. In this case, the film opens in exactly the same manner but the opening shot of Laura Regan being interviewed is no longer full screen (1.85:1) but appears in a smaller window with the remaining cast taking up four of the five other slots as shown:
At any point, the viewer can select which interview tape they wish to watch and, as the film's timeline runs past the 180-day mark, at which point the film really begins, some archive footage is opened up. As the film progresses, there are a number of scenes in which multi-angle footage can be viewed and there is an option to listen to the members of the Company running the webcast who make occasional visits to the house.
Truth be told, this viewing mode is something of a gimmick with little value added to the normal version of the film. Whilst there are the full-length interview tapes, the archive footage is also available in the Deleted Scenes section on Disc 2 and the multi-angle option is only used four times. Whilst the commentary by the company is of some interest, it does not require any considerable mental effort to realise, even during the first viewing, that it is actually impossible for the Company to be speaking as they apparently were making this seem like a rather late addition to add value to the DVD.
Given the film is based on reality television - and, visually at least, is firmly rooted in that world - My Little Eye has been filmed on Digital Video. As a result, there is no point in pointing out the lack of clarity, that the colours that can be harsh at times or that the movement of the actors is slightly jittery - frankly, that's how the film is supposed to look. Again, there is absolutely no purpose in claiming the camera work is overly static - My Little Eye has been filmed on the DV equivalent of security cameras and so, whilst there is a small amount of camera movement, you can forget about sweeping, Steadicam shots through the house.
Still, Marc Evans does a good job of keeping the action flowing with some shots very well set up to maintain tension although it is saved somewhat by its editing, particularly during the set pieces.
My Little Eye
really has an outstanding Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix with the edgy sounds of much of the technology (cameras, electricity cabling, the wake-up alarm) being unnaturally amplified to increase the uneasy feeling of the early scenes and to give some indication of the atmosphere within the house, isolated both by distance and the lack of communication permitted by the Company. T
The musical soundtrack is largely made up of current indie/rock bands but
My Little Eye
is a two-disc set with the majority of bonus features included on the second disc, making space available for the two viewing modes and Audio Commentary on Disc 1:
Audio Commentary: Director Marc Evans and producer Jon Finn provide a feature-length commentary that is alright but barely worth a second listen. Finn provides most of the funny moments, both describe the technical details of the film, such as finding out by accident that some of the cameras could do Infra-Red imaging and Evans gets to laugh along at his partner's jokes. There are a few bits of trivia but nothing really worth pointing out.
Deleted Scenes: Available with a commentary, which is often silent, from director Marc Evans and producer Jon Finn, who often express surprise at how good their film looks, this extra includes all the scenes deleted from the main feature but which are present in the Interactive Browser Mode. I have blocked any spoilers in the titles as rather a lot is given away so, if you wish to avoid knowing any more details, I would advise you to wait until after you have watched the main feature before viewing these extras:
- Arrival At The House (29m47s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo)
- Hot Tub (1m27s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo)
- Danny... (5m25s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo)
- Emma Apologises To... (1m07s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo)
- Charley Talks To Camera (1m19s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo)
- Danny & Matt (5m21s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo)
- Emma... (3m09s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo
- ...Takes Down Cameras (29m47s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo)
Many of the scenes are notable for adding depth to a number of the characters in the film, particularly Danny, Charley and Emma. Still, not too much is given away leading to the conclusion that these scenes are largely extraneous.
Making Of My Little Eye (29m47s, 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This features some behind-the-scenes footage and a large number of interviews with the principal five actors and the director within approximately the first ten minutes, which are interesting but typical of a standard puff-piece. Of much greater interest are the final twenty minutes, which cover the post-production in London, a disastrous test screening on 11 September 2001, at which point Universal walked away, and the slog around festivals that eventually guaranteed, in the manner of The Blair Witch Project, an Internet-fuelled awareness amongst the press and the public that ensured the film made a profit in its UK release alone.
Teaser Trailer (0m40s, 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a very brief trailer showing a small number of highlights from the film.
Full Length Trailer (1m45s, 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is effectively an expanded version of the Teaser Trailer with much more footage from the film shown.
TV Spots (1m00s, 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is broken into four chapters with each one being a very brief TV teaser with very similar content to the Teaser Trailer.
Gallery (7m34s, 13x Still Images , 2.0 Stereo): This extra contains a number of stills of the actors and production soundtracked to Desolation Highway by Bikini Atoll. These stills are presented in a single chapter.
DVD Credits (1x Still Image): Quite rarely, this extra includes full details on the team from The Pavement (www.thepavement.com) who produced this DVD.
Otherwise, Momentum have done an absolutely wonderful job on issuing the film on DVD, My Little Eye is really quite beautifully packaged. From the cover, the transparent red case and through to the booklet, it is a rare DVD that actually stands out within a large collection. In keeping with the care taken over the content of the two discs, Momentum are to be congratulated on the production of a very stylish package. Of course, such a consideration might be said to count for very little but, being honest, who can say that packaging has never influenced their decision-making.
It simply seems that, of a number of modern British horrors, those that attempt to include at least one good idea are those that are most disappointing. Where Resident Evil and Dog Soldiers stay simple and sharp, 28 Days Later could have been more innovative but is actually much less effective due to it holding onto the pretence of being clever whilst actually not saying very much at all.
I can't decide whether the filmmakers wanted to write a slightly superior but ultimately empty slasher movie or were playing it as smart as they could. If it's the latter, or that's what you're expecting, you could be disappointed. If it's the former, however, then My Little Eye is not bad at all - it's good fun, very stylish, certainly looks and sounds great and passes ninety minutes with no slack. It's not a horror movie for a big audience - this is claustrophobic, eerie and unsettling, perfect for a winter's night in but just don't expect a revelatory experience.