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The foreign names of the director and star of EDDIE THE
SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL suggested there might be a European art-house flavor to the piece. Instead,
this Canada-lensed feature is a traditionally told tale, albeit one possessed
of a peculiar personality that allows it to successfully juggle satire,
slapstick and splatter.
The film (making its North American premiere tonight at New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival) is simply titled EDDIE on screen, though he’s not
the main character. That would be Lars Olafssen (Thure Lindhardt), a former
celebrity on the art scene who has hit a creative slump. His agent (the always
welcome Stephen McHattie, who here feels like he’s channeling Lance Henriksen)
has suggested he get away from it all and recharge his batteries by taking a
teaching gig. And so, after an early scene establishing his squeamish side, Lars
arrives at the Koda Lake Art School, in the middle of snowy nowhere. Lars is a
fish out of frozen water at first, amidst a bunch of nice sketched supporting
characters, but he begins to settle in and is asked to look after Eddie (Dylan
Smith), a hulking mute whose last relative has died. Said relative has left a
lot of money to the school, it seems, on condition that the school take care of
Eddie in return.
At first, having Eddie share his house seems like an
imposition, but Lars begins to warm to the big guy—and besides, taking him in
allows Lars to score points with pretty co-worker Lesley (a charming Georgina
Reilly). Then Lars discovers one of Eddie’s little quirks: In the deep of the
night, he somnambulistically staggers out of the house, kills living things and
eats them. Lars is understandably concerned about this, especially as Eddie
moves up the food chain to two-legged snacks. But then he finds that witnessing
the bloodshed gets his creative juices flowing again. Suddenly he’s able to
create a canvas that wins raves from the school staff and approval from his
agent. So now what does he do—or more to the point, what does he do, or not do,
about what Eddie does?
How Lars deals with the Faustian bargain that has been
handed him is the backbone of EDDIE’s comedy, and its heart is the interplay
between the two leads. Lindhardt, who’s got a touch of Simon Pegg about him,
responds to the odd and increasingly grisly events surrounding Lars with a
winning deadpan and just the right way with a line reading. Conversely, Smith
creates a complete character with Eddie even as he doesn’t say a word. Having
apparently lost his speech due to some awful event in his childhood, Eddie’s
not played as a big dummy or a simple monster, but as a man-child who’s
basically decent at heart—at least when he’s awake. When Eddie slumbers and
then sets off on his hungry nocturnal missions, Smith reveals a knack for
physical humor as well; even as his character obliviously staggers through
these scenes, you can never say the actor sleepwalks through them.
Writer/director Boris Rodriguez has some pungent points to
make about the creative process, and what an artist must be willing to trade
for personal fulfillment and financial success. EDDIE is a kind of Frankenstein
story (and indeed, there are echoes of Boris Karloff’s classic turn in Smith’s
performance), though here Lars hasn’t created a monster, he just enables him a
little bit. Rodriguez’s skillful handling of tone ensures that the satire stops
short of making statements at the expense of the fun, while also keeping the
more blatant comic elements from tipping the movie over into outright
silliness. The characters’ most extreme actions remain motivated by
identifiable desires, and when the going gets gory (makeup FX by Liz Ciesluk
and Dawn Grant), even when it’s over-the-top enough to get laughs, it isn’t so
gross that it turns you against the perpetrator.
It helps in this regard that many of the bad things happen
to bad people (say goodbye, obnoxious neighbor), which also means there’s a
certain predictability to the victim roster. The circumstances of the climax,
too, have a whiff of inevitability about them—which is not to say the ending is
unsatisfying, and here as throughout the movie, Rodriguez eschews sacrificing
the credibility of his characters for the sake of a joke. For all his morally
questionable actions, Lars remains likable and relatable, and Eddie ends up a
memorable addition to cinema’s human-monster pantheon—the most personable
flesheater since DAY OF THE DEAD’s Bub.
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