(Movie Review by Donnie Saxton) “Close Your Eyes” is a British paranormal thriller directed by Nick Willing and based on the novel “Dr. Sleep” by Madison Smartt Bell. Though unread by me, judging by the film, “Dr. Sleep” appears to be of the Dan Brown progeny (or perhaps it’s the other way around) where a mysterious and ancient religious sect supplies the film with its many twists and turns. Not surprisingly, old church buildings dotting the London cityscape factor heavily as plot devices. Eventually, of course, a main character connects the church locations on a map to form an important religious symbol, the purpose of which seems to be for no apparent reason. Someday a prodigious spoofster will mock this retread sequence and the map locations will connect to form Mickey Mouse smoking a cigarette, or maybe Bill Gates eating the earth. I can’t wait.
In the meantime, Willing has made a film where Goran Visnjic (TV’s “ER”) plays Dr. Michael Strother, a London hypnotherapist who makes his living curing people of their smoking habit. One of his patients is a gloomy cop named Janet Losey (Shirley Henderson), in whom he confides that he has the telepathic ability to see his patient’s thoughts when they are under hypnosis. Janet has been working a case involving a little girl (Sophie Stuckey) who was once kidnapped by a ritualistic serial killer but managed to escape. Unfortunately the girl, who has been rendered catatonic from the trauma, cannot assist the police in finding the killer.
After Michael proves his telepathic ability, Janet quickly enlists him to help her extract details about the killer from the little girl. At first blush, the killer in question appears to be a sadist of unexplored proportions. He enjoys tattooing his victims with religious symbols and injecting his blood into their veins, resulting in unfortunate ends for those with dissimilar blood types. Janet believes that Michael can persuade the girl to reveal clues about the killer before he strikes again.
Michael lives up to his billing, sort of, and through hypnosis gets the girl to utter some gibberish that turns out to be an ancient language spoken only by the leader of a mysterious religious sect from the 15th Century. This new revelation leads the pair to the roots of the ancient cult and to an 18th Century London architect (ah! a church designer) who was a devout follower. On the way Michael and Janet seek the assistance of a paranormal symbologist (Paddy Considine, “In America”) who educates them on some of the finer points of the cult and how it could be linked to the motives of the killer.
Those of you who are still with me should be impressively confused by now, as was I. All the nonsense presented about 15th Century cult leaders, 18th Century architects, and how they may or may not affect the killer’s motives and a young girl’s speech impediment, is less than stimulating to say the least. The movie presents little in the form of explanation to sustain its fictional narrative besides a few one-liners from the main characters that Band-Aids gaping holes in the story. In short, the historical fiction that the script leans on to support the plausibility of the story is never plausible itself, and eventually the film begins spinning its tires in mud of its own making.
A similar problem exists with the Michael character. People normally don’t enjoy the ability to visualize the mental impressions of others, and the film is incredibly coy about the source of Michael’s gifts. He basically shows up on screen and begins reading minds and the audience is left to accept the premise with no explanation. There was a reason Patrick Stewart could read minds in “X-Men” (he was a mutant). While watching “Close Your Eyes”, I found myself wondering what else Michael could do. Can he fly? Walk on water? Lower my insurance premiums?
Despite the defects of “Close Your Eyes”, the last half hour breathes life into an otherwise tired and confusing thriller. The killer turns out not to be such a sadist after all, but more of a paranormal artisan serving a powerful master. His torture methods are not just the product of a twisted mind, but rather a means to an end — and the means don’t seem nearly as bizarre when you understand the end.
That’s not to say the movie makes any sense. “Close Your Eyes” is ridiculous, but the last act elevates it to the kind of ridiculous that is worth watching despite itself.
Nick Willing (director) / Madison Smartt Bell (novel), William Brookfield, Nick Willing (screenplay)
CAST: Goran Visnjic …. Dr. Michael Strother
Paddy Considine …. Elliot Spruggs
Shirley Henderson …. Janet Losey
Miranda Otto …. Clara Strother