Although the script is clumsily structured and the final act fails to deliver a needed wallop, My Little Eye (2001) is a bit of a historical piece because its filmmakers took the old haunted house mystery template – 'whoever stays the longest earns big riches' – and sexed it up with the technological gear from Big Brother. Moreover, instead of ghosts or mythical monsters, it's the the fear of an unknown intruder and possible death that stresses the five contestants restricted to a gloomily isolated house in some chilly forest.
The construct of the online game is very simple: the entire group must remain to the end of a six-month term in order to collect their $1 million prize, but it takes a major suspension of disbelief to accept that neither isolation, close contact, no TV / internet / phone, chastity, nor cabin fever has affected the group; unlike the real Big Brother series, besides some minor verbal snipping, everyone gets along amazing well, which is frankly ridiculous. That alone makes the online series the group is involved with actually duller than any TV show, except the wired house is designed to capture every private (nude) moment.
Director Marc Evans and screenwriters David Hilton (writer of the meandering and pretentious The Young Americans) and James Watkins (Eden Lake, The Decent: Part 2) also interweave elements from an Agatha Christie whodunnit by having contestants slowly die off, a ploy that initially turns contestants against each other until a wandering stranger arrives one night. There's little faith the stranger's presence is due to some kaput vehicle, and the fact resident nymphette Charlie (Cleopatra 2525's Jennifer Sky) boffs him so fast and furious after his arrival means he's there to break up the film's dialogue scenes with raunchy sex.
Before this bizarre intrusion can be processed by the audience (the stranger just leaves the next morning, and the contestants actually go on with their day-to-day doldrums with little worry for their safety), Rex (Final Destination 3's Kris Lemche), the resident computer geek, manages to establish a connection to the internet, and unearths the group's participation in an online snuff game where elite gamblers bet on who's likely to survive.
It's at this stage where the filmmakers had several options: steer the drama towards trapped contestants fighting back in a brutal game of survival; turn the technology that's been used to exploit them for half a year against the unseen corporation that needled dropped them into some snowy no man's land; or get the hell out under the cover of darkness, forfeiting their million dollar treasure, but saving their lives.
The film steers towards neither stream, and instead the contestants spend their last night thinking about riches, sleeping, or getting screwed on camera (which proves quite lethal for Charlie, but exposes the mole who wreaks mayhem on the others).
As director Marc Evans describes in the DVD's lengthy making-of featurette, his interest in the script lay in dramatizing the Eurocentric fear of people disappearing without a trace in the physical and remote vastness of America – except none of that's actually in the final film.
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Evans does create an excellent sense of isolation – much like The Haunting (1963), he goes for somber shots, footage of the huge house, and the occasional contestant wandering outside to pick up their supplies – but the fear of abduction and helplessness isn't there because no one in the group bothers to test the length their leash and find out what happens when they wander beyond the supply drop point. The filmmakers would probably argue primal greed is the reason, but it's a tenuous motivator.
What's worth noting is that My Little Eye is pre-Hostel (2005), and it's highly likely the blood-letting and deaths would've been more dribbly and creative had Evans directed the film in 2009. There is a concerted effort to treat the characters as real instead of fame-seeking twits, but without an edgier wrap-up or decent twist ending, the film goes through a few interesting spikes before closing on a rather lame finale that may set up the film's sequel potential, but leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
Universal's DVD includes a director and sporadic actor commentary, plus some deleted scenes that reveal a much looser, longer, and duller early edit. Taken from the unprocessed full screen digital video edits, there's also an 11-minute prologue wisely dumped from the film that has the group walking through a clearing, entering the house, and exploring the environs before climbing to the roof and scanning their location.
The chief problems with the prologue are the angles that feel too flimic and go against the hidden camera design used for the rest of the film, and the deadly pacing that undoubtedly led to Evans opting for a compact split-screen prologue that explains most of what's needed within seconds.
There's also a lengthy making-of featurette chronicling filming in Halifax, and the trials in getting a low budget film into movie theatres. The latter is particularly vital to director Evans because his prior theatrical efforts went straight to video, and there's the real threat that with a trio direct-to-video productions, another crack at the theatrical market might prove futile.
In 2002 that fear was quite real, but in the intervening years the distribution system has shift, and horror films don't need a broad theatrical run; for the fans and media, perhaps, but any real monies lie in distribution rights and agreements. The featurette includes interviews with the cast, crew, and filmmakers, plus plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of the amazing set, although the featurette editors boo-booed by overlaying narration regarding the film's 'lost and abducted in America' theme with blatant footage of Canadian locales and products.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan