Eternal / Jeremy C. Fox
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()
If you’ve ever lain awake at night wondering what might happen if someone were to combine the porny misogyny of Joe Eszterhas with the blood-soaked eroticism of Anne Rice, you can now rest easy; Eternal provides your answer. Taking off from the legend of Hungarian Countess Erzsébet Báthory, “the Bloody Lady of Čachtice” who was rumored to have tortured and murdered hundreds of young women and, by some accounts, bathed in their virgin blood to maintain her youth and beauty, Eternal posits that the 16th-century noblewoman is alive and well and living in Montréal, where she meets horny, bi-curious babes online and lures them to their deaths.
Eternal is one of many films to use the Báthory legend as its starting point, following Countess Dracula (1971), Daughters of Darkness (La Rouge Aux Lèvres, also 1971), Ceremonia Sangrienta (1973), Contes Immoraux (1974), et al., but its conception of the character owes more to Basic Instinct’s Catherine Tramell than to Hungarian history or the genteel goremeisters of Hammer Films. Despite the hotsy-totsy lipstick lesbianism of the countess (Québécoise actress Caroline Néron), who in the present day uses the alias Elizabeth Kane, her central relationship in the film is with police detective Raymond Pope (Conrad Pla), who meets her while investigating his wife’s disappearance. The two spar and eventually screw while Elizabeth and her handmaiden Irina (Victoria Sanchez) knock off the women in his life one by one, framing Ray for the murders.
The film’s first-time writer/directors, Wilhelm Liebenberg and Federico Sanchez, have a lurid but effective visual style that highlights the old-world flavor of Montréal’s architecture, giving the film a look that recalls the Venice of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now; eventually Ray’s pursuit of Elizabeth actually leads to Venice, where Liebenberg and Sanchez exploit the narrow alleys and dark chambers to create a growing sense of claustrophobia and licentiousness. (The look of the climactic sequence is halfway between Kubrick’s sex-mansion scenes in Eyes Wide Shut and an Ingres harem.) The filmmakers manage an effective, opulent style for what’s clearly a low-budget movie; if only they showed comparable ingenuity with the narrative. Their bare-bones script goes through the motions of horror and erotica without ever quite achieving either; scenes take place and are followed by other scenes, but nothing builds. Focused as it is on the relationship between Elizabeth and Ray, the film doesn’t develop enough suspense or audience identification with her victims to make it really scary, and the sex scenes, though plentiful, are brief and have a Skinemaxesque, faux-arty self-consciousness that douses any inherent heat. (Liebenberg and Sanchez might have benefited from yanking their Don’t Look Now DVD out of the player and watching the Deneuve/Sarandon tryst in Tony Scott’s The Hunger.)
Néron is a gorgeously carnal camera subject, a little Rebecca Romijn, a little Natasha Henstridge, with a Hungarian accent laid on top of her natural French-Canadian one for an alluring bit of exoticism. Her performance is appropriate to the role, full of bloodlust as well as the sexual kind, but the character isn’t written with layers, and she doesn’t do much to add any. The situation is worse with Pla, who gives a rote TV-cop performance in a role with little to recommend it in the first place. Ray is the protagonist by default, elevated above the other characters only because he’s handsomer and has more screen-time. He’s an amoral serial adulterer with little more than a bit of professional curiosity about his wife’s sudden disappearance; he has a child (played by Pla’s actual son) who’s supposed to help humanize the character, but he’s forgotten after a couple of obligatory happy-father/son scenes.
With its echoes of erotic horror films from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, there are those who’ll get a kick out of Eternal’s kinky B-movie voyeurism. Despite some artsy pretensions, it’s little more than lesbo porn for the Maxim crowd, a straight man’s fantasy of women’s sexuality combined with some minor gore. The filmmaker’s visual inventiveness rescues it from being just another cheapo straight-to-video horror flick, but only by an inch.
Jeremy C. Fox is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society. You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.