Stream to Scream: “THE ETERNAL”
As many fright fans already know, FANGORIA offers a great selection of gruesome movies, old and new, for free at our Hulu channel. To give you a better idea of what’s available, FANGORIA is taking in-depth looks at some of the channel’s terrifying titles with Stream to Scream. Today: Michael Almereyda’s possession creeper THE ETERNAL.
To call late ’90s horror “chaotic” is somewhat of an understatement. While the mainstream found its footing in the post-SCREAM slasher revival, indie horror was all but unseen as attention turned greatly toward genre-adjacent auteurs like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. The independents became a melting pot of experimentation then, with explicit or derivative homage and sexually-charged exercises in atmospheric thrills.
In one way or another, THE ETERNAL (a/k/a TRANCE) reflects elements of each approach, and its connection to the atypical ’90s independent film aesthetic is glaring throughout. What the film also has is a surprisingly effective, visually-driven narrative that’s rich in both mythology and dread-inspiring creepiness. And despite a lack of originality, THE ETERNAL actually manages to be quite captivating, even when delving into undeniably silly territory in its third act.
From its first frame on, THE ETERNAL presents itself with the “renegade” indie aesthetic popularized in the ’90s, complete with swooping camera, casual tracking shots and flashback sequences presented in abrupt 16mm cutaways. Yet once the film starts veering towards genre territory and the mythology seeps in little by little, THE ETERNAL becomes more reflective of strange art house horror of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Suddenly, expository talk of druids, witchcraft and possession pervade the story, which allows the audience to experience the oddities alongside the characters.
Speaking of the characters, a special note on the performances in this film: none are subtle, but all are absolutely electric. Alison Elliott’s dual role of an ailing alcoholic and her immortal druid ancestor is utterly fascinating, jumping from unhinged physicality to seductive restraint effortlessly. Meanwhile, Jared Harris mixes charisma with moral ambiguity for our hilariously eccentric protagonist, surprisingly usurping the audience-relation role from Elliott. However, Elliott’s mysterious and creepy uncle is a perfect fit for Christopher Walken’s iconic sensibilities. He embraces the role as both an unwitting, self-centered antagonist as well as the reluctant narrator.
Michael Almereyda, who previously tackled horror in his David Lynch-produced vampire tale NADJA, revels in the surreal atmosphere of THE ETERNAL, injecting a palpable sexual tension in between fantastic druid lore and a generic horror movie structure. Alongside cinematographer Jim Denault, Almereyda constructs exceptional visuals that ride the line between camp and class ever so carefully, yet never render the film boring or misguided. In fact, Almereyda’s willingness to go further into insanity despite the limitations of his budget and story is commendable on its own, especially considering the especially bleak note on which the film ends.
THE ETERNAL is certainly worthy of a recommendation, as it might just be the secret gem of FANGORIA’s Hulu page. Almereyda’s take on independent witchcraft horror boasts commendable imagery, wonderful supernatural moments and admirably gonzo acting choices, placing an abstract perspective on a subgenre that is otherwise clouded in Gothic inspiration. THE ETERNAL is straight-up fun and committed horror filmmaking that, in the face of budgetary restrictions, earns your attention and more importantly, your respect.