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Entries in Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal [2012] (1)

Thursday
Apr252013

Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal (2012)

The Long, Dark Snack-Time of the Soul

Some movies defy categorization. Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal has been called a "dark comedy", but I'm not sure that's right. Despite the cute title and intermittent gore, it's not a "horror comedy", either--at least not in the way you might think of such films. Yes, it's about a frustrated Danish painter who takes a teaching job in middle-of-nowhere Canada, only to discover that his new roommate is a sort of REM-sleep werewolf. But writer/director Boris Rodriquez embraces his characters' weird reality, delivering a film so absurd, terrifying, cute, and heartbreaking that I'd hoped to find out it was a docudrama.

Thure Lindhardt is Lars, our washed-up artist hero. He hasn't produced anything of note in a decade, to the chagrin of his slimy agent, Ronny (Stephen McHattie), but is treated like a celebrity at the Koda Lake Art School. A cross between Summer School and Footloose, Lars' first day on the job involves a bad encounter with a cop; a crush on the teacher one classroom over (Georgina Reilly); and a run-in with an uptight slime-ball of a faculty member (Peter Michael Dillon). As soon as Eddie (Dylan Smith) enters the picture, though, predictability jumps head-first out the window.

Eddie is a large, mute mope whose wealthy aunt's financial support keeps the troubled school's doors open. In exchange, the staff allow Eddie to sit quietly in the back of various classes, where he paints spooky, childish watercolors. The aunt passes away suddenly, and Lars volunteers to let Eddie stay with him in the spirit of making a good first impression on his new co-workers.

During their first night together, Lars awakens to find his roommate naked in the woods with a mouth smeared in blood and a shredded rabbit carcass nearby. As the days wear on, Eddie's unconscious and unholy appetite evolves to bigger and bigger animals until--well, you probably get the idea. Why doesn't Lars call the police on this lunatic? I'll leave that for you to discover; suffice it to say, I wondered the same thing for quite awhile, and the answer is brilliant and honest in a way I didn't expect.

I referred to Eddie as a "werewolf" earlier, and though he doesn't sprout over-grown canines and excess body hair, his place in the bigger story will feel very familiar to horror fans. Fortunately, the movie is about Lars, and about what Eddie awakens in him. The "terrorizing the town" stuff is effectively yucky and pretty funny, but I really responded to Lars' struggle to make a comeback amidst (and thanks to) the chaos in his life. Either Rodriguez spent a lot of time around painters in researching this character, or being a filmmaker is a very similar kind of creative obsession--either way, his portrait of Lars will speak loudly to anyone who's ever found themselves at the mercy of uncontrollable creative urges (pay attention to the tools Lars uses when painting masterpieces we're never privy to, and how they correlate to his particular successes and failures; it's but a thread in Rodriguez's keenly observed, lovingly woven tapestry).

With a different cast, this movie would be pretty good. But Lindhardt, Reilly, and Smith make the production special. With an angelic face that looks like a genetic mash-up of Jonny Lee Miller and Rutger Hauer, Lindhardt reveals Lars to be a deeply troubled egotist masquerading as a decent, humble guy. As Lesley the love interest, Reilly brings vulnerability to a role that, at first glance, is no weightier than...well, a character best described as "Lesley the love interest."

As the film's titular "monster", Smith crushes with a performance that never lets the audience doubt him for a second. It's a tired truth that in every comedy or horror film featuring a character who is called out as being mute, they will inevitably say something cute or important before the end credits. Not here. In a bravura performance similar to Andrew Sensenig's in Upstream Color, Smith creates Eddie solely out of body language and masterful facial manipulations that suggest he'd spent his whole life having to relate to people in frustrated silence.

Given my lousy track record with indie genre films lately, I expected nothing out of this thing called Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal; serves me right for judging a movie by its title. The picture is as hard to pin down as the movies I consider to be its spiritual forebears, Election and World's Greatest Dad. It's a great addition to the pantheon of teachers-in-midlife-crises movies, full of rich characters, tricky situations, and the hard questions that don't seem like much until we stop laughing long enough ask them of ourselves.

Attention Chicagoans! If you'd like to catch Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal on the big screen (and you definitely should), it opens tomorrow night at The Music Box Theatre on Southport. Check out their Web site for more information.