Home Video Hovel: Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal, by David Bax
Any dark comedy walks along a precipice. The grisly stuff has to be felt heavily enough that the laughter kind of hurts but it can’t be so disturbing that the laughter dries up completely. Boris Rodriguez’s Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal, though, may just have overcorrected. Despite an engrossing thematic undercurrent, the whole affair is far too lightweight for that darkness to take hold the way it needs to.
Thure Lindhardt, who was perfect in last year’s Keep the Lights On, plays Lars, a once-renowned artist who has produced nothing notable in a decade. He takes a job teaching at an art school in a small, picturesque Canadian community. When one of school’s patrons dies, Lars agrees to take in her nephew, Eddie, a mute and possible mentally challenged man. When Lars discovers the sort of things Eddie gets up to in the middle of night, he is at first sickened, then inspired. Painting meaningfully again, he begins to compromise with himself, justifying the steps he’s taking to inspire Eddie’s late-night hungers.
Lindhardt, blond and pale-skinned with a high, soft voice and a gap between his teeth, has an innocent and boyish presence that he wields cunningly. As Lars’ thoughts and actions become increasingly sinister, we remain on his side, pulling for him to come to his senses before he goes too far and loses some of his soul for good. Perhaps Rodriguez’s greatest success is recognizing how sympathetic Lindhardt is and using that to torture the audience.
Yet what interests Rodriguez most is, to put it tritely, the dark side of art. Paintings, sculptures, films and all other art forms provide us entertainment, enlightenment, beauty and honesty. But the creation of art requires a singular, tyrannical force of will. It often requires isolation and self-obsession. The irony Eddie explores is the notion that works that can enrich the world may be created by people who have little regard for it.
From the opening, it’s clear that we’re going to be seeing a humorous take on the dichotomy of “sensitive artist” and “sociopath.” After striking a deer with his car on the way into town, Lars approaches it and realizes the animal is not quite dead but remains in pain. He timidly picks up a large rock from the side of the road and attempts to put the beast out of its misery. The first strike does not do the job so Lars tries again. And again and again, until it’s clear the deer is dead but something compels Lars to continue. The scene (and the comically tense exchange of dialogue that occurs when a cop arrives) is both brutal and hilarious. It encapsulates everything Eddie should be. Unfortunately, the film never regains that balance.
From the simplistic characterizations of the good and bad people in town to the clichéd depiction of ruthless, art- world soullessness (represented by Stephen McHattie in a small role as an art dealer) to the laughably energetic way Lars paints when his muse strikes, the whole thing is too broad to be incisive and too fleeting to grab hold of. Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal clearly had the inspiration but it lacks the stomach for the follow-through.
Special features include a making-of and short film by Rodriguez.