Megan Borns says The Eyes Below is a magnificently-executed film filled with brilliant cinematography.
Many people are plagued by sleep paralysis: some cannot call out for help, while others are bed-bound and tormented by hallucinations. The Eyes Below takes this idea one step further, trapping the main character in his bed, unable to escape a hellish nightmare world. Director Alexis Bruchon writes, produces, and takes charge of the film’s cinematography. With his art direction, the film is a masterpiece of “show, don’t tell,” as well as a clear look into body language and compelling camera work. The film stars Vinicius Coelho and Pauline Morel, who infuse considerable depth into the characters they portray.
After receiving important information from a potential lead, Coelho, an investigative journalist, becomes trapped in his bed by a supernatural creature played by Morel. Unable to escape the confines of the richly-made bed linens, he must fight against the horrors that surround his every breath. The film carefully utilizes every moment to craft the perfect buildup. Without the precise and close camera shots establishing every detail, the payoff would be insubstantial and lacking. The lavish set design, primarily in the journalist’s bedroom, and the lack of dialogue make this film an intriguing study of shadows and innovative storytelling.
It is difficult to encapsulate the best element because every aspect of this film excels. The cinematography brings to mind chiaroscuro, enhanced by Coelho’s striking face. The shadows and close shots juxtapose nicely with bright orange fire, and then wide images depict the journalist scanning his bedroom for abnormalities. These techniques blend well together, creating a visually enchanting experience for the audience.
The bold set design, which includes deep red bed covers and a roaring fire, quickly set a mysterious and foreboding tone. The set splits as the journalist makes sense of his perilous circumstances. One side darkens and changes to a chilling blue hue that depicts reality shown side-by-side with what the audience now understands is a dream. The dream reads as a potential premonition that plays out in reverse of what is soon to come and catapults him back to reality. He relaxes and finally falls asleep when he realizes he is no longer trapped and everything is simply a dream.
Then, to corroborate the night’s events as a premonition, the dream events play out in stark reality. Once again, the journalist must fight a demon to escape his bedroom. It’s a particularly compelling way to continue the story because the extensive setup pays off brilliantly. The placement of every piece, from the phone to the water bottle, to the carefully selected books on the bookshelf, has significance. The camera focuses on seemingly random parts of the room, yet once the dream becomes a reality, the memory of those objects becomes the line between life and death in a film lacking dialogue. As things progress, body movement becomes incredibly important. Morel’s eerie motions and the sped-up film editing make the already scary, black-clad, slimy creature far more disturbing.
At face value, some of the film’s clues are carefully laid out, which may be hard to watch. However, the journalist’s scavenger hunt is a rewarding experience that forces you into the adventure. The euphoria of figuring out most of the mystery never dilutes our anticipation of piecing together the end. For that, it is easy to see that Bruchon is an exceptional writer who delivers a coherent and exciting story to the audience. Between the gorgeous cinematography, the fascinating depiction of a dreamscape, and the surprise tie-in back to reality, The Eyes Below takes audiences on an enthralling and captivating journey.
The Eyes Below screened at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival on August 11-22, 2022.