Chep (Michael Pitt) is an idiot savant who works and lives at a prop-house that services the local film community. Though he never leaves his cluttered abode by day, he manages to catch screenings of The Sweltering Squaddee at the local movie house every night. When a production designer, Fran (Paige Turco), requests genuine rhinoceros eyes for a shoot she’s supervising, Chep falls in love and the lines between fantasy and reality begin to seriously blur. Aaron Woodley’s debut is drawing dubious comparisons to Eraserhead and Edward Scissorhands, as if its perpetual air of weirdness could actually be called surreal. (Maybe it’s the Pee Wee Herman bike Chep uses to get from the prop-house to the movie theater.) Luis Buñuel once wrote: “Our imagination, and our dreams, are forever invading our memories; and since we are all apt to believe in the reality of our fantasies, we end up transforming our lies into truths. Of course, fantasy and reality are equally personal, and equally felt, so their confusion is a matter of only relative importance.” As Fran’s demands become progressively more gruesome, Chep begins to lose his grip on reality. He makes his way around town wearing a Thor Johnson mask, invading a squabbling couple’s home and a local hospital in order to make Fran happy. Reality and the world within the fictional Sweltering Squaddee intertwine a little too literally, and the dialectic is mediated by stop-motion characters pieced together from spark plugs, buttons, cords and all sorts of objects lying around the prop-house. Evoking the Brothers Quay, these creations are naughty and often terrifying but perhaps a little too hyper-conscious. “There’s no need to hide behind a ridiculous mask,” says one of these composite creatures, essentially doing the thinking for us by unpacking the film’s subtext. Not only does Woodley downplay Chep’s past, his retardation becomes a mere gimmick. Wouldn’t it have been more fascinating to see a “normal” character slide down the same path to insanity? By afflicting Chep with idiot savantism, Woodley keeps things easy. What is the film in the end but a string of mediocre, sometimes humorous non sequitors? Rhinoceros Eyes is only too eager to weird us out, and though some of its aesthetic shout-outs and dislocations of time and space are startling, it’s never as strange as it thinks it’s being, nor does it ever emotionally connect us to its main character’s disconnect from the world.
- Madstone Films
- 92 min
- Aaron Woodley
- Aaron Woodley
- Michael Pitt, Paige Turco, Gale Harold, Matt Servitto, James Allodi, Jackie Burroughs, Nadia Litz, Victor Ertmanis, Neil Crone
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