Horror isn’t exactly a burgeoning genre in Belgium and if someone were to make a generalization about the country based on Two Eyes Staring, it would probably be that horror flicks in general must not make it to their shore often enough. It’s that lack of awareness that director Elbert van Strien must be hoping for; he understands some basic mechanics, like how good cinematography and an eerie score can build up mood, but the script – which he co-wrote Paulo van Vliet – constantly sabotages the on-screen tension by veering off into inconsequential territory that makes the film drag.
When nine-year-old Lisa’s (Isabelle Stokkel) maternal grandmother passes away, her mother and father move her into their newly inherited home in Belguim. Her parents quickly land new jobs, but Lisa’s bored and agitated by the move, which doesn’t help the already rocky relationship she has with her mother. Spending more and more time alone in the giant house, she befriends a mischievous spirit that temporarily alleviates her boredom. Her parents dismiss her new companion as an imaginary playmate but, as the family will soon find out, she seems to know a lot about her mother’s secret twin sister and less than happy childhood. Tensions grow in the house as more and more discoveries are made, dividing the family as Lisa becomes destructive and her mother withdrawn.
Guido van Gennep’s cinematography captures every dark, shadowy corner of the home, giving Two Eyes Staring the look of older haunted house films where things constantly go bump in the night. But even when coupled with Stokkel’s great debut performance which drives the film forward, the film is too reliant on the audience thinking kids are creepy from the get-go. It doesn’t do a lot to instill that fear into non-paedophobia sufferers and in general, it isn’t doing much of anything.
With a great first act, Two Eyes Staring devolved into yet another film where a character’s past comes back to haunt them – literally – but none of them are very interesting and it’s far longer than it should be. While Lisa’s point of view is that her parents spend way too much time at work and absorbed in their own lives, the film does the same which brings it to a screeching halt more often than it should.
Han Otten and Maurits Overdulve’s score does some screeching of its own, completely shattering the mood more than once.
Two Eyes Staring is basically Horror 101, with van Strien practically running down a list of horror clichés after a great first act, completely blowing everything the film had going for it. The cinematography and acting keep it from being downright terrible, but not from being dull and 30 minutes longer than it needs to be.
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