Five Across the Eyes (2006 Anchor Bay)
It was a dicey task entering into this movie. The seemingly chronic low budget-ness of it all was enough to make me second guess ever putting the disc into my DVD player (I’ve been to a world of hurt watching screeners administered by backyard cinema freaks who have less ideas than they do money). The opening act of Five Across the Eyes didn’t do much to sway, as I watched a group of high school girls talk trash while traveling a dark, unfamiliar back road , returning home after an away football game. The girls had the ham-fisted skill of a 3rd Grader doing Hamlet, so their bickering became tedious and far too rehearsed. Exaggerated eye rolling and sneers come seemingly on cue, you know – just like mean girls are supposed do in the movies. The unsteady handheld camera and muddled videography had the look of inexperience, as well.
But somewhere around the thirty minute mark, things changed. That’s when a raging lunatic lady leaps from her SUV and starts pulling the terrified and confused girls from their mini-van and assaulting them with brute anger. The whole thing just comes outa nowhere and does enough damage to unsettle the viewer. It becomes evident, to the girls, very quickly that the woman isn’t angry about them accidently crunching her headlight back at the parking lot down the road. No… She hurls insults at them, screaming vague charges of being a “whore,” and something to do with her husband. The screaming woman is dead set on humiliating these girls for some blurred reason that only she knows. It’s frightening enough for these girls to be assailed with a gun, but their terror is heightened by the confusion of why is this happening? This is what works so brilliantly in this story. It’s not about what’s around the corner? Or what’s that noise? The attack by this crazy lady comes plain out of nowhere. No noise, no foreboding feelings, just instant, irreversible pain.
Having worked in New York City for nearly thirteen years, I had become acutely aware of this kind of instant terror. On any given day, I could have been shoved off the subway platform and into the path of a speeding train, or knocked unconscious by a deranged homeless guy yielding a brick, or maybe severely beaten by some thrill-seeking kids. It’s an overwhelming feeling, made ever more fearsome knowing that these kinds of occurrences are real – these thing did all happen to other New Yorkers. Watching Greg Swinson and Ryan Thiessen's Five Across The Eyes brought memories of those fears racing back, like the crazed lady in her SUV.
And as suddenly as the fury of that first attack hit them, it ends… weirdly and bewildering the woman abruptly realizes the time and cries out that she is late for picking up her children. Before anyone knows it, this road-raging, smartly-dressed soccer mom is in her truck and gone! The girls pile into the battered minivan and speed away. The attack not only focuses them, but it gives focus to the script. The incident has left them exhausted, but, like the men of Deliverence and kids from Just Before Dawn, not too tired to quarrel over blame and unresolved (mean girl) issues. The once trivial relationships between these five girls now becomes an integral part of how they will or will not get out of this mess. As the terror thickens and the attacks grow ever more boundary-pushing, the performances tighten.
Each of the five girls nails their role to the blood-soaked floor with a sledge hammer, and the suspense reciprocates. There’s the girl who gets brutally violated and regresses to a child like state to protect, even preserve, her innocence. There’s the runt of the litter, who finds her finds that true friendship comes out during a crisis. And most disturbing is the popular girl, who obsesses over her looks to the point of risking her friend’s lives to make sure she has no permanent scars. And perhaps, the most dynamic role could be the “minivan.” Virtually every scene takes place within its confines. There’s barely enough room for these five girls, but add in a cramped camera, and the claustrophobia squeezes your tense nerves beyond belief. It feels like you’re right in the van with these girls, yourself, going for the ride of a lifetime.
Five Across the Eyes turned out to be smart, clever fun. just don't let that no-budget thing scare you away.