Studio: Red Hound Films
Director: Ben Samuels
Writer: Ben Samuels
Producer: Oliver Samuels, Ben Samuels
Stars: Rosebud Baker, Matt Riker, Ben Samuels, Montana Marks, Amy Rutledge, Jonas Parker, Carol Anne Raffa, Bradford How, Peter Delaurier
A troubled couple struggles to survive with their friends after a deadly outbreak turns farmhands into ravenous zombies.
NOTE: “Eyes of the Dead” was previously titled “6:15.”
Working as a farm manager in Romero country of rural Pennsylvania, Eddie has had a troubled marriage since his wife Carla’s miscarriage. Quality time with visiting friends aims to alleviate some of that pain, but everyone’s day is disrupted by the unexpected arrival of men in black investigating a suspicious drone dusting over Eddie’s corn crop. It seems the drone sprayed something even deadlier than DDT, and whatever it was has farmhands turning frighteningly feral.
Nostradamus isn’t needed to predict what happens next. Flanked by gun-toting government agents on one side and teeth-baring zombies on the other, Eddie and his family suddenly find themselves fighting to keep body parts connected by holing up inside their formerly quiet country home.
Standing out in the overloaded zombie subgenre is about as difficult a task as doing the same in the equally bloated realm of first-person footage. The intent behind filmmaker Ben Samuels’ “Eyes of the Dead” is to shoot both of those undead heads with a single bullet using its marquee hook: depicting an escalating zombie outbreak from the perspective of one man’s eyes, cut to look like a continuous 80-minute shot.
While not technically “found footage,” “Eyes of the Dead” turns its audience into Eddie by putting the camera inside his POV. Ripping a page from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope,” the movie then orchestrates actors, effects, and camera movements to come together on cue for long takes seamlessly edited into a first-person experience. Those ambitious logistics make “Eyes of the Dead” a remarkable achievement in meticulous choreography. Yet while that unique technique has the earmarks of an intriguing idea, it is also a persistent thorn puncturing the movie’s side.
“Eyes of the Dead” is a love labor from a committed collection of cast and crew whose enthusiasm outweighs experience, which is a perfectly fine circumstance for a microbudget project keeping scope in check and rookie resources fully deployed. But problems with presentation begin when the conceit compounds amateur acting by highlighting how hard a time everyone has performing opposite a camera rig instead of a character.
Precisely timed blocking has clearly been rehearsed ad nauseum, as it should be given the film’s nature, except there is a visible preoccupation in actors’ heads with where to be, what to do, and when to do it. No amount of side-to-side swaying with the camera can hide how fluidly everything moves even though hectic zombie madness is supposed to be the order of the day. The script has no chance of assisting unconvincing character portrayals either when, for instance, one person is required to recover from the death of a significant other so fast that a road runner cloud is left in the wake of rapid plot advancement.
POV perspective is far from the best-suited frame for a film with a two-person arc at its core. Putting an audience behind someone’s eyes works when that audience has a simultaneous experience with the person they are supposed to be. Yet there comes a particular point in “Eyes of the Dead” where Eddie has a heart to heart with his wife about relationship woes and their conversation turns into a memory lane trip referencing past events only they are privy to. Because the characters are now in a different narrative space than the audience, the illusion of immersion in Eddie’s identity is suddenly supplanted by a passive voyeur sense of possessing an alien body. When it feels like characters are talking at you instead of to you, the first-person format isn’t functioning as intended.
It’s unfortunate because there is thoughtful dialogue about marriage between Eddie and Carla that doesn’t have a chance at breaking through staging to make an impact. Feeling emotion in an exchange such as theirs is already complicated when only one side of a two-person drama can ever be depicted onscreen.
In the case of “Eyes of the Dead,” the movie’s main draw is simultaneously its main drawback. A one-take format handcuffs any ability to alter momentum by forcing the story to drag through every mundane moment of unimportant value. “Eyes of the Dead” cannot turn up the tension with a cut to a close-up or any another edit, leaving physical action to look as comically theatrical as George “The Animal” Steele devouring a turnbuckle when a practically pantomimed zombie wrestling match must be viewed full frame.
The POV presentation here is a gimmick more distracting than enhancing. Writer/director Ben Samuels and company earn accolades for an inventive approach to a twice-told and then some tale, and bonus points for a spectacular practical effect of conjoined zombie piglets. But actors inexperienced for the task at hand coupled with uneventful act two interludes make “Eyes of the Dead” a more routine zombie film than its premise promises.
NOTE: There are several mid-credits scenes.
Review Score: 50