Eternal (2004)

This Canadian production is Bathory-themed and basically tries to reshape Erzsebet Bathory as a lesbian SM icon. The plot is pretty thin and is chiefly based on the premise that Bathory has a large property portfolio managed through trusts, which she uses to move from city to city and keep a low profile. Her need to feed on (and apparently also to bath in) human blood runs counter to the low-profile attempt, and so she seems to have settled for a clandestine way to lure women into her home who are not likely to tell others about it.

While using the dangers of online-dating as your film’s introductory theme may feel old today, it was probably still somewhat viable in 2004. But apart from secrecy, there is another aspect to Bathory’s scheme of luring women into her house instead of randomly attacking people in the streets: there is a belated expository scene in which it is explained that she not only needs blood, but also the “soul” of the victim – and you can only take the soul of someone who comes to you willingly, without fear, but full of desire, etc., etc. There is no further explanation offered.

Bathory’s scheme might have worked reasonably well, had not one of the women she lured into her home turned out to be the wife of a Montreal cop, Raymond Pope. The ensuing police investigation threatens Bathory’s anonymity, and apparently she becomes more dangerous the more she feels cornered…

 

 

As I said, the plot is thin. And not all of it makes sense. Why Bathory, who certainly has the means to vanish, chooses not to do so but to instead go to war with Pope, is anybody’s guess. The decision merely prolongs (and justifies) the second act, before Bathory decides to prepare leaving the city after all.

 

The film seems more concerned with its style than its substance. It is a visually overbearing style that goes for kink and nudity as much as it goes for blood and gore. The visual opulence is introduced right at the beginning, with Bathory’s expensive, secluded mansion sporting a luxurious interior that signals money more than taste. This is an at times lavish production that never looks or feels cheap – which means that the budget for props and set design must have been quite substantial.

 

 

Imdb co-credits Wilhelm Liebenberg and Federico Sanchez for writing, directing, and producing this film. Curiously, for a film that looks so good and professional, it represents the only writing-, directing-, and producing-credit for either of them. Sanchez’s sister Victoria is a Montreal-based actress with three decades worth of acting credits, and she plays a major supporting role in this film.

Caroline Néron is very good as Erzsebet. She has a great screen-presence and her performance is one of the few saving graces of this film. The acting is generally very good, but I am not sure if Conrad Pla is entirely the right choice for the role of Raymond Pope. But that’s much more a problem with Pope not working well as a character (especially not a protagonist) and less a problem with Pla.

 

While Pope is meant to be an anti-hero, the screenplay is dialling this up to 11. He is an S&M enthusiast who regularly cheats on his wife and visits shady night clubs. His main mistress is the wife of his friend and colleague. Of course he also has all the usual hallmarks of the antihero-cop: rough looks, midlife-crisis-car, a “not-playing-by-the-rules” attitude, etc., etc.

To make sure the audience still connects with him, they give Pope a son and try to show him as a loving father – but somehow that makes matters worse.

 

The story itself falls a little flat, plotwise. This is Pope’s investigation, and so it plays out like a whodunnit. The problem is that we know that from minute one. We also know “howdunnit”, “whendunnit”, and “wheredunnit”; and we have also a pretty good idea “whatdunnit” and “whydunnit”. So the whole investigation is a bit tiresome – you simply feel no suspense. You also feel no tension because Pope is not too worried about his wife on an emotional level, and you feel no tension on the side of Erzsebet, because she feels very safe and is entirely composed and unrattled.

 

Plotting the story like an investigation when – from the audience’s point of view – there is nothing to investigate, is a problem. It could work if it slowly evolved into a horror film, but it somehow never manages that. Another option that is sometimes used and that would have worked here would be to keep the audience guessing whether Erzsebet is a actually a vampire or simply delusional. Technically, we have no proof of vampirism, or of anything supernatural going on. Even fangs seem to be missing. Everything odd could be explained by Pope slightly losing a grip on reality. But somehow the film never tries to explore that option; you never feel that there is really meant to be any doubt.

With nothing to investigate, and no tension or suspense, the film becomes incredibly long-winded. Visual opulence alone is not really enough to fill a net running time of 99 minutes.

 

The story also becomes more convoluted as it goes on. There are no real plot-holes, but there are glaring plot conveniences. For example, at one point, out of nowhere, a Roman Interpol agent shows up, drops one or two lines of cryptic information, and vanishes again. A few minutes later the entire plot relocates to Italy.

I would not use the word “bad” to describe this film. But it still feels like a 3.5-out-of-10 to me. It simply left me cold, and it gave me no character to connect to. And, as I said, 99 minutes is an awful lot of time if, in the end, you have nothing to show for it.

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