CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ERLINGUR THORODDSEN / CAST: CAIT BLISS, COLIN CRITCHLEY, JASON MARTIN, DAVE KLASKO, JAMES WILCOX / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (US)
An undead spectre roams the dark woods, hunting for unsuspecting children to devour. New budget indie-flick Child Eater sets out its grim premise in short order. In fact, the opening sequence is the movie’s strongest - as a solitary child wanders through an eerie forest, its discarded doll lying unblinking in the ice-cold water of a stream. The terrible injury that she reveals to a passing motorist suggests that the movie will either be a gruesome, twisted fairy-tale or a stomach-turning horror. But rather disappointingly, Child Eater turns out to be a muddled and quite ordinary chase-flick, albeit one punctuated with some fleeting genuine chills.
Small-town gal Helen (Bliss) reluctantly takes on a babysitting gig at the insistence of her father, the local police chief Sheriff Connolly (Wilcox). When her young charge Lucas (Critchley) disappears from his bed, Helen and boyfriend Tom (Klasko) race into the forest clutching flashlights in the hope of finding him. So begins a long night of running, stumbling and bloodletting as a series of alarming showdowns ensues. The monster of the story is revealed within minutes to be a local man who, many years earlier, had been afflicted with ‘macular degeneration’. Losing his sanity as blindness overtook him, he decided that consuming the eyeballs of children might prevent his total loss of sight. This antagonist eats children’s eyes (for medical reasons). They’re not a cannibal with a preference for young flesh.
But little is done to establish this nonsensical backstory, or to explain the nature of the beast now back on the prowl. Instead, the small ensemble is soon dropped in position ready to run about the woods for a game of catch-me. As characters race from place to place, the story’s geography comes unstuck. Everywhere that a character visits is given a sketchy ‘bad history’ by way of exposition, but no clear sense of the story’s connected locations emerges. The interior and exterior night shoots also rely on the most minimal lighting possible, so it’s quite difficult to follow who’s doing what (and to whom) in the near pitch black.
Along the way, there are a couple of good boo-shocks, and some spirited eye-socket gore. The malevolent Robert Bowery (Martin) also cuts quite an impressive figure in the shadows (imagine Christopher Lloyd’s Doc from Back to the Future had had a makeover in Hell). But there are so many unexplained loose ends left hanging that the narrative starts tripping over them long before the final reckoning kicks in. There’s plenty of filmmaking enthusiasm in evidence here. What’s missing is clarity, coherence and the determination to tell a compelling story that makes good on the terrifying potential of the film’s title.