Psychiatry and religion are two crutches that people turn to in times of trouble, seeking help, spiritual guidance and comfort. But these twin sources of help are also double-edged swords and have often been exploited for darker purposes. With religion, the dark side is often the suicide cults with their brainwashing, manipulation and the ability of charismatic leaders to pray on the vulnerable and the troubled.
This new low budget psychological thriller from writer/director Nick Matthews looks at the dark nature of both psychiatry and religion as it takes us on a journey with a troubled young man who ventures into his own heart of darkness. One Eyed Girl is the debut feature film for Matthews who has amassed a prolific body of short films during a two decade career as a cinematographer and his sharp eye brings a rather grim and foreboding tone to the material.
Travis (played by Mark Leonard Winter, from Healing) is a psychiatrist who was severely traumatised by the suicide of a former patient and lover. Travis is also deeply troubled by the violence and despair he witnesses around him on a daily basis and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He meets Grace (played by Tilda Cobham-Hervey, from the recent drama 52 Tuesdays), a teenager who is handing out pamphlets about Father Jay, a charismatic religious leader who offers a chance at redemption and salvation. After Travis suffers from a near fatal overdose, Father Jay (played by Steve Le Marquand) and his right hand man Tom (played by co-writer Craig Behanna) take him to their isolated compound in the Adelaide hills. There the therapy is intense and physical in nature, involving hitting a punching bag with a baseball ball to release the pent-up anger, and even a little hunting. Father Jay seems a rather enigmatic character, who holds sway over his troubled and emotionally damaged flock of devout followers. But when Travis learns of his dark side and the way in which he often takes advantage of his trusting acolytes, he tries to rescue both Grace and himself. But his actions have unforeseen and tragic consequences.
Winter, who played a rather vulnerable and fragile prisoner in the superb Healing is well cast as the troubled Travis here, and he runs an emotional gauntlet as he tries to deal with his inner turmoil. Le Marquand (from Last Train To Freo) has a strong and imposing screen presence which is put to good use as the misguided and vaguely threatening Father Jay. The film takes its title from the quote: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed girl is queen.” Here the one-eyed girl is Grace. Despite her solid performance in 52 Tuesdays, here Cobham-Hervey struggles with the rather underdeveloped character.
One Eyed Girl explores some strong themes like guilt, redemption, addiction, religion, faith versus science and medicine, mental illness, etc, but the film is at times a bit of a mess, particularly in the early scenes which are fragmented and disjointed and keep the audience at a distance rather than drawing them into the story. The pacing is also a little slack.
Jody Muston’s grim cinematography suits the bleak and generally downbeat tone of the material, and Michael Darren’s score also contributes to the bleak atmosphere. But somehow this look at the insidious nature of cults and a charismatic leader lacks the insight and disturbing quality of the excellent Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Director: Nick Matthews
Cast: Mark Leonard Winter, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Steve Le Marquand
Releasing in cinemas: 30 April 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television