The most surprising thing about Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal is that it has more ambition than the title suggests. It could have easily been an over-the-top campfest, and many audiences, perhaps even myself, would have been happy to embrace it on those terms. But writer/director Boris Rodriguez clearly had something else in mind, namely to work into his film a similar sense of dark satire that Roger Corman relied on for A Bucket of Blood. Eddie is a film about art and the creative impulse – or, more accurately, how murder and carnage can spark that creative impulse in some people. It’s about the sense of power that can come with respect, about the difference between genuine respect and merely boosting someone else’s ego for your own gain, and about the darkness that hides in plain sight amongst the works of art we revere.
And yes, it’s also about a cannibal that sleepwalks. There are gore effects in this film, and they’re just low-brow enough to satiate the drooling disciples of B-movie trash, especially if they have a preference for zombie films. Having said that, we’re not beaten over the head with them. I have a sneaking suspicion that the horror audiences this movie is geared towards will find this problematic, if not downright offensive to their sensibilities. Assuming I’m reading into it correctly, the intention is not to repeatedly shock or disgust us, but to actually be about something. It has a plot, preposterous though it is, and several of the characters are developed in interesting and unexpected ways. One could even say that they have some depth to them.
It tells the story of Lars Olafssen (Thure Lindhardt), a once-famous Danish painter who has lost his inspiration. Under pressure from his oily art dealer, Ronny (Stephen McHattie), he now teaches at an art school, which has inexplicably been built in a snow-packed, middle-of-nowhere Canadian town. One of the people in class is technically not a student. This would be Eddie (Dylan Scott Smith), the tall, well-built nephew of the school’s deceased patron. Ever since a heartbreaking yet hilarious childhood trauma that involved his parents, Eddie has been unable to speak, and he has emotionally regressed to a six-year-old. We will repeatedly see him making childish watercolor paintings and eating his favorite cereal straight out of the box. He’s not a mentally-challenged stereotype, although he does come close.
The dead patron’s will stipulates that, as long as the staff takes care of Eddie, her estate will go towards the school. This is especially important to an administrator named Harry (Alain Goulem), who desperately looks for ways to get the school funded. Through Harry’s coaxing, Lars reluctantly agrees to house Eddie until a permanent home can be found for him. The arrangement turns dark when Lars discovers that, whenever he’s unhappy or emotionally compromised, Eddie will sleepwalk in his underwear, wander the woods, break into other people’s homes, and eat them. Lars also discovers that witnessing the blood and the gore inspires him to start painting again. Such was the case ten years ago, when he survived a vaguely described accident. Behind Ronny’s back, Lars sells his painting, which is hailed as a masterpiece. The money he earns is enough to keep the school afloat for the time being. It also earns him the respect of another art teacher, Lesley (Georgina Reilly), who harbors a dream of being a sculptor.
And so forms a pattern. Lars will stalk bad people, he will lure Eddie to their homes while he sleepwalks, and ultimately, he will be inspired to paint again, simultaneously earning money for the school and inflating his ego. What’s fascinating about this movie is that neither Eddie nor Lars are exactly what they appear to be. Like Frankenstein’s Monster, there’s an element of pathos to Eddie; he’s a big, dumb lug who isn’t aware of the terrible things he does, and when he finally is made aware, he genuinely feels sorry. Likewise, although Lars is manipulative, underhanded, and more disturbed than even he knows, a small part of him does wish he could stop, as he has already gone too far and will only keep going farther. He has an addiction, not merely to his art but also to the sight of blood and gore.
Rodriguez takes a rather interesting approach to the material, opting to never let us see any of Lars’ finished paintings. We barely see what they look like as works in progress; as he paints, the camera is always placed behind the canvas, and whenever the camera cuts to a different angle, the best we get are vague splotches of color. Now that I think about it, the only artwork we get to look at in full detail belongs to Eddie. This is, I believe, a rather intelligent statement about the purpose and subjectivity of art. Furthermore, if we were to see Lars’ work, we would see only unhealthy fixations, evil opportunities, and the need to be validated. Looking at Eddie’s work, childish though it may be, we see honest, heartfelt depictions of the world around him. I expected Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal to be entertaining, but I didn’t at all expect it to be so cleverly subversive.
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