“In the land of the blind the one eyed girl is queen”. So goes the premise to director, Nick Matthew’s feature debut, The One Eyed Girl. The winner of the Dark Matters award at Austin Film Festival in 2014 is a raw, experimental and plodding look at how and why a psychiatrist descends into the crazy world of a cult.
The story centres around Travis (Mark Leonard Winter), a young but jaded psychiatrist who is reeling after the recent death of his lover and patient, Rachel (Katy Cheel). As he deals with his pain, he first chooses to self-medicate to the point of oblivion (read: overdose). But Travis’ life changes once he meets and is intrigued by a gentle soul named Grace (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) who is handing out pamphlets about a church on a train.
Travis follows Grace into the dark world of the farm, a cult lead by the charismatic but violent Father Jay (Steve Le Marquand). The leader has a history of manipulating his followers, not least one nervous and troubled young man named Marcus (Matt Crook). We don’t learn much about Marcus’ back story nor do we learn about Grace’s tale. The latter is particularly sad as she is perhaps the most interesting character here and it would have made a much better film if the audience had had an opportunity to learn about why she was so devoted to this malicious leader, his method and this particular road to salvation and redemption.
This story is painfully slow despite being a thriller and it shows Travis’ internal struggle as he implodes and his life spirals out of control. There is a brooding sense of intensity that is supported by an atmospheric soundtrack and the stakes increase once Travis witnesses some unquestionable acts on the farm. It seems this Garden of Eden isn’t the picturesque utopia the followers had imagined and the result is overly dramatic.
The One Eyed Girl is a disturbing film that should be applauded for its artful symbolism, unnerving tone and overall ambition. But overall, this film fails as it is a really slow boil that only reaches a resounding crescendo in the final act. More commentary could have been used to tackle the complicated subject matters of a healer’s responsibilities towards the vulnerable, Stockholm syndrome and the identity crises that the characters have. While the acting is good, a stronger film about a similar topic is unquestionably, Jonestown: The Life & Death of Peoples Temple. The One Eyed Girl is ultimately a forgettable mix of dark melodrama and internal struggles.
Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The One Eyed Girl opens in Australian cinemas on April 2.