One Eyed Girl is the latest addition to a long list of interesting low-budget films produced in South Australia.
It’s an absorbing psychological thriller, depicting the breakdown of a young psychiatrist, Travis (Mark Leonard Winter), who is drawn into a cult after one of his patients kills herself.
Having lost the capacity to share his profession’s rationality, and emotionally numbed by the pills he gobbles like lollies, Travis is vulnerable to the appeal of a group devoted to purging its members’ physical and psychological toxins. Resistance is futile. Before long, Travis is unleasing his furies by attacking a punching bag with a baseball bat.
At this point, his defences broken, things become even weirder for Travis thanks chiefly to the cult leader, self-styled Father Jay (Steve Le Marquand). While Winter’s performance as Travis is slightly uneven, Le Marquand’s is excellent. Father Jay is an obsessive whose background serving with the army in Afghanistan, followed by recovery from heroin addiction, has convinced him that pushing the body and psyche beyond their limits is the only way to uncover the true self.
Inevitably, the redemption Father Jay offers has a deceptive appeal, and therein lies the twist to the tale. Adding complexity to Travis’s situation is his connection to cult proseletiser Grace, played with necessary ambiguity by Tilda Cobham-Hervey, last seen in 2013’s award-winning feature 52 Tuesdays. Is she a zealot? A slow-burning sexpot? I suspect Cobham-Hervey’s intriguing face will take her a long way, particularly as she often presents such a flat affect that the slightest revelation of emotion becomes a dramatic moment in itself.
The production was a work of love by a group of industry newbies and is writer/director Nick Matthews’ first feature. Director of photography Jody Muston also deserves significant credit for creating the darkly ominous visual tone that pervades the movie.
Although One Eyed Girl was shot in the Adelaide Hills and CBD, the settings are in no way obviously Australian. Indeed, the film could have been made in almost any country and, as its Dark Matters best-picture jury award at the Austin Film Festival attests, it has potential to succeed internationally. First, though, it deserves Aussie support.
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