Review: ‘Eternal’

Approximating "Interview With the Vampire"-type opulence on something closer to a "Red Shoes Diaries" budget, erotic thriller "Eternal" is the first feature for directors-writers-producers Wilhelm Liebenberg and Federico Sanchez. Ever-popular "lesbian vampire chic" angle will lure the genre faithful. Primary exposure will be in rental and cable markets.

Approximating “Interview With the Vampire”-type opulence on something closer to a “Red Shoes Diaries” budget, erotic thriller “Eternal” is the first feature for directors-writers-producers Wilhelm Liebenberg and Federico Sanchez. Their shared design and advertising backgrounds show in a handsome package whose atmospherics outclass merely serviceable plot and character elements. Ever-popular “lesbian vampire chic” angle (though the primary dynamic here is between the lead vamp and a macho male cop) will lure the genre faithful. Some theatrical sales are likely (Regent plans a fall U.S. release), but primary exposure will be in rental and cable markets.

An impressive gated mansion on Montreal’s outskirts is home to the mysterious Elizabeth Kane (Caroline Neron), whose many attractive female guests never leave the premises. When latest to disappear is the bi-curious wife of philandering police detective Ray Pope (former pro kickboxer Conrad Pla), latter’s own penchant for kink and Liz’s deadly sense of sportsmanship commence a cat-and-mouse game littered with corpses and heavy-breathing sex.

Eventually pursuing her to Venice, Ray discovers she’s really Erszebet Bathory, a 16th-century Hungarian aristocrat who bathed in the blood of some 650 virgins to maintain a youthful appearance. Their climactic standoff takes place amid an orgiastic masked ball where she’s preparing not just a literal blood-bath, but a virtual blood-jacuzzi.

Pic maintains a straight face through increasingly silly events. Credibility, even by horror-fantasy standards, is stretched to the breaking point as Ray continues to roam free even after Elizabeth firmly frames him for several murders she or wannabe-vampire assistant Irina (Victoria Sanchez) committed themselves. It doesn’t help that the protag seems little affected by the deaths of those closest to him — character conception and Pla’s loutish perf run a short emotional gamut from smirk to snarl.

Pic seems uncertain whether to emphasize Elizabeth’s disinterest/contempt toward men, or suggest she considers Ray a worthy adversary-cum-partner. Since the latter rings false, an ambiguous epilogue hinting at their possible future together doesn’t quite work.

But the main agenda here is to titillate and induce a chill or two, not advance psychological realism. Excellent use of locations, ornate set dressing, sexy costumes, et al. hit the right decadent-sinister note. Real scares are few, in part because the major characters are unsympathetic. It’s notable that the one genuinely suspenseful scene involves imminent harm to a too-briefly-seen support figure (Liane Balaban as Ray’s flirty neighbor-babysitter Lisa) who’s by far the most likeable presence here.

Tech aspects are polished.

Eternal

Canada

Production

A Regent Releasing release of a TVA Films presentation of a WildKoast Entertainment production. Produced by Wilhelm Liebenberg, Federico Sanchez. Executive producer, Bruce Robertson. Directed, written by Wilhelm Liebenberg, Federico Sanchez.

Crew

Camera (color), Jamie Thompson; editors, Isabelle Levesque, Denis Papillon; music, Mysterious Art; production designer, Perri Gorrara; art directors, Massimo Antonello Geleng, Marina Pinzuti; set decorator, Susan C. MacQuarrie; costume designers, Claire Nadon, Stefania Sziveretto; sound (Dolby Digital), Louis Dupire; assistant director, Don Terry; second unit director, Marzio Casa; casting, Aldo Tirelli. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 19, 2005. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Conrad Pla, Caroline Neron, Victoria Sanchez, Sarah Manninen, Ilona Elkin, John Dunhill, Nick Baillie, Arthur Holden, Kathleen Munroe, Romano Orzani, Yves Corbeil, Liane Balaban.
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