Creating art can be murder. The masters of any given medium admit that they cannot explain where their talents come from. It is why we often call such skills “gifts” and credit divine inspiration to the artist. But what if the inspiration comes from that other place? Somewhere that is surely not divine…but is certainly warmer.
That is the question director and co-writer Boris Rodriguez seems to posit in Friday’s VOD and limited release, Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal. The debut director, who worked on the screenplay with Jonathan Rannells when it was originally about a werewolf, distills the movie’s campy title and premise into something any struggling creative type can appreciate: what would you do to end your artistic slump?
Lars (Thure Lindhardt) was once the darling prodigy of the art world. Ten years ago, he experienced a terrible accident. From that chaos, he created masterpieces that were both provocative and astonishingly grim. However, the sun sets on all has-beens and after a decade of artist’s block, Lars finds himself drifting into the coldest reaches of Canada to take on the unglamorous job of teaching at a small town’s struggling art school. Yet, things are not all bad when he attracts the attention of a fellow teacher and girl next door named Lesley (Georgina Reilly). The two do not immediately hit it off, but all is well when Lars agrees to take in Eddie (Dylan Smith).
Eddie is a gentle soul trapped in a giant’s body. The mute and mentally handicapped man-child is the ward of the school after his grandmother dies. As the quiet hulk’s grandma was the sole patron for the school (and even left her fortune to them if they provide care for Eddie), Lars soon finds himself Eddie’s caretaker. Maybe now Lesley will like him? It seems unlikely Lars’s one good deed will win over Lesley, but when his creative streak returns he is quickly winning over the whole town. Every week, he is producing a new work of brilliance and macabre genius on the canvas. And it just so happens that each success arrives after another mean-spirited resident or visitor disappears. And did I mention that Lars likes to watch Eddie sleepwalk?
Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal is a strange collage of dark humor and artistic allegory. An independent film with a low budget, the economically shot project allows the filmmakers to embrace the unsubtle message that good art is worth killing for. Not that Lars is the one who starts going out at night to slaughter innocents. Rather, he thinks he is in Canada to get his creative juices flowing and spends half the film interacting with Eddie, Leslie and the other characters like he is starring in a quirky dramedy. Yet, he eventually notices that Eddie’s nocturnal anxieties, which compel him to go into the darkness in search of animal blood, can be used to get rid of minor annoyances. First, it is the annoying neighbor’s dog that won’t stop barking all night. Then it is the annoying neighbor. And what about those douchebags who called Eddie a retard in the grocery store parking lot? Before he knows it, Lars is enabling Eddie’s subconscious like a Fava Bean procurer for Hannibal Lecter.
Lindhardt plays Lars with the right amount of awkward charm that can make him initially likable in that harmlessly, spastic way. He is only letting Eddie kill bad people and takes no enjoyment or pleasure from it. It is just every time he sees a dismembered arm here or disemboweled torso there, it gives his hands the magic needed to make bloody great work. It is like his agent, who keeps urging him to paint, always says: you can’t judge art. This compulsive obsession with mutilation and death in even the highest forms of culture is not lost on the film, as Lars frequently listens to the classical radio station. As he travels the frozen wastelands in search of Eddie’s newest work in red, the radio samples works of opera and ballet that all seem to end in massacre.
Unfortunately, the movie does not rise much above its initial joke. Lars is a one-time wunderkind in need of inspiration and finds it in his new, deceptively complicated roommate and BFF. It is a clever conceit, but it struggles to maintain the film’s 90 minute running time. There is a sweet romance between Lars and Lesley, who is played with the right amount of skepticism and contained fangirl giddiness by Reilly. However, their romance only reinforces that Lars is kind of goofy and maybe not as nice as his humble and unassuming demeanor suggest.
When Eddie does go out at night, swinging his arms like a schnockered gorilla in his tighty whities, it is as great a visual as any of the recent dark comedies with overtly camp premises. But the ease with which he can sever a head from a body and paint the snow red with the blood of intolerance will only carry the movie’s punch line so far. At its heart, this is not quite the absurdist camp the title promises, even if it gets there by the final five minutes. It is more a curious character study about a self-absorbed artist who just happens to have a roommate with a taste for living…and the recently deceased, as well. The true humor is in the brush strokes instead of the killing ones.
Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal is a parable for what kind of a gory mess an artist should make to create something truly special. And I have to admit that the film makes a strong argument for finding a muse, no matter how many hearts are broken (or stopped) along the way. Even so, perhaps this gory mess could have been a little more focused to what’s on the easel if it wanted to create a work as structurally sound as Lars’s gooey creations.