INDIEFEST '09 REVIEW: "Eugene"

eugene

“You just seem really shy, and sensitive. Have you had a lot of experience with women?”

Eugene is a dark portrait of a man so lonely and miserable that it’s almost hard to believe it’s as watchable as it is. Captivating in a way that reminds you of a natural disaster, Eugene is powered by morbid curiosity, just like its titular main character. Plagued by a sad life, Eugene tries to kill himself more than once in the movie, only to back out at the very last second. Why? He doesn’t have anything to live for—but he’s scared. He can’t rest with the idea of a terrible world that would keep going and not remember he was ever there, even if staying means more pain. Not too far removed from those of us who are too invested in Eugene’s story to turn away before a point of satisfaction, even if we know exactly how his story would eventually crash.

Mesmerizingly played by Stuart Bennett—never pushing believability as he nosedives from pathetic to creepy—Eugene is a repressed bachelor whose only wish is to experience love. He lives alone in a modest apartment, his past-time is watching freaky videos online and he works at a stable, hoping to become a horse-jumping jockey. He has no friends, no coworkers. When he asks a woman out for a date, his sexuality is questioned, leading to an encounter with a heroin-addicted street hustler named Josh (Ryan Reyes) and his porn model girlfriend Heather (Megan Lee Ethridge), both not in great shapes themselves. They give Eugene their time of day, but their love for each other only sparks jealousy in him.

Eugene’s not exactly firm with its plot or even its intention. A character piece in the vein of Taxi Driver, it merely follows its desperate anti-hero down an unpleasant path of heartbreak, disappointment and despair. It deals with absolutely screwed up lives with little hope in their future, thus offering the kind of unsettling mood where you know for sure that it’s going to exit on some kind of bloodbath, even if it holds the urge back until the very end.

One hopes that film can provide something more than the grim chronicling of a man running into one bad luck after another. It’s a character study, but all it studies is how desperate loners have self-destructive tendencies, and if you push them they might push back harder. It offers none of the moral challenges that made this approach a successful one for Travis Bickle. Eugene may be too inward-focused and unflinchingly cynical to stop itself from appearing as empty as its main character’s life, but it still shows great promise in its players, particularly Bennett’s sympathetic lunacy and director Jake Barsha’s superb grasp of early Cronenberg-like fetish for the disturbed.

2009

Feb
13
2009
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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