Blood, guts, and a little bit of art for good measure
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal.]
Immediately when I saw the title Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal, I wanted to see it. I didn't even care of it was a non sequitur. Some names just have a certain ring to them.
The movie delivers in the Eddie department and the sleepwalking cannibal department. It also tries to be something more: a dark splatter-comedy, a misfit buddy picture, and a send-up of tortured artists and the art world. It's a bit of a mulligan stew -- a dish made of meat, potatoes, vegetables, small art schools, and people.
What's odd is that even though Eddie has so much absurdity and kookiness going for it, it doesn't push one of its key elements far enough. It's tasty when it's tasty, but one of those ingredients in the stew is undercooked, and it's not the human flesh that Eddie enjoys at night.
Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal
The film opens with Lars Olafssen (Thure Lindhardt) driving to a teaching gig at a small art school in nowheresville Canada. He was once a great artist, and now he's just slumming it. There's a quote on the radio from Jack London: "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." There's the film's epigraph. Seconds later, Lars hits a deer.
While at the art school, he learns about a strange student named Eddie (Dylan Smith). He's in his late thirties, a mute, autistic, and is mentally distraught. Peculiar circumstances have allowed him to be enrolled at the school even though his art isn't all that sophisticated. Eddie needs a caretaker, so Lars obliges and learns that Eddie sleepwalks. But the sleepwalking is only part of the problem.
The friendship between Lars and Eddie seems genuine at first, even affectionate and brotherly. Lars is a new person in town, and the film does a hilarious job of heightening the irrational suspicions some townspeople have of outsiders. Eddie's obviously in need of a friend as well. But Lars discovers something: he's inspired to paint by mayhem and gore.
In a way, the irrational inspiration for art reminds me a bit of Herschell Gordon Lewis's Color Me Blood Red and Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood. Both are about people using murder as a means to make art. Lars has more tact than that, of course: he's merely drawing inspiration from the actions of his friend. It's not just the gore that drives him to create. He's been unable to produce decent art for years, so getting that taste of inspiration again is addictive. It just happens that evisceration unlocks his creative potential. It also helps that his work begins to garner esteem from his colleagues at the art school, particularly his attractive fellow artist Leslie (Georgina Reilly).
When in a fever of creativity, Lars attacks canvases with his bare hands. He smears color not with deliberation but pure, instinctual inspiration. There's a madness to it that's convincing -- part pre-schooler with fingerpaints, part abstract expressionist/action painter. We get little comedy bits on the radio about violent operas and dark classical music pieces, and when Lars paints the score swells into something symphonic and distorted. Think of a heat-warped Shostakovich record played inside a vast concrete tunnel.
But the art ingredient is the half-cooked one. I say this for an important reason: we never actually see anything that Lars paints. At least in A Bucket of Blood we see those sculptures, and in Color Me Blood Red we see those completed paintings. In Eddie, we see more paint on Lars's clothes than we do on a canvas. In fact, we see more of Eddie's art than Lars's or Leslie's. It may seem like a trifling matter, but it's essential to see the inspired, lunatic work of a tortured artist if the movie's hero is a tortured artist going through moments of lunatic inspiration. The art doesn't even have to be great, it'd just be nice that it was there.
Writer/director Boris Rodriguez noted that he wanted the film to be about the addiction to art, and what's in the film seems rendered but not quite complete. It may not have taken much more to bring this idea to its conclusion. Like I said, the art wouldn't need to be that good. It might even be funny if it wasn't. Then again, perhaps it's just me. In some scenes, Lars is taunted by a blank canvas. Like Lars, a blank canvas is something I'd like to see filled.
I only hook onto that art element because so much else in the film is just as good as the title. As Eddie, Smith brings a likable manchild quality. He's like the shy kid in early grade school (except he's a sleepwalking cannibal). Lindhardt conveys the different facets of Lars's personality well: he's a friend for a bit, then a manipulator, then a petulant, insecure jerk. The tone, like the friendship, is offbeat and off-kilter. It's lighthearted even when it's blood-soaked, but twisted even when it's sincere.
If it was a painting, everything else in Eddie would be done except for a little something in the center, and it was something I couldn't help but notice. There's the fine use of color everywhere else, the texture of the paint is great, the mouthful of flesh is delightful, and almost all of the comedy is spot on. But that sketched-in thing drew my eye -- the thing about art and art addiction. It glares back blankly. Sure, I can try to imagine what image goes there, but I'd have liked Rodriguez or his actors to do it, because they'd be able to do it better.