Cinema Dispatch: Sightless

Sightless and all the images you see in this review are owned by MarVista Entertainment
Directed by Cooper Karl

Alright, look.  As much as I would LOVE to do nothing more than watch wrestling and play Halo until the world gets back to normal, I need to get back into some regular routines and that’s going to start with reviewing some movies.  Yes, this movie was released last year and I could have watched it on digital, but it just got its Netflix release and frankly I never even HEARD of it until I was looking for something to watch.  Warner Bros is going to do its best to keep me relevant in the coming months with their movies coming straight to HBO Max the same time as they hit theaters, but I’ll be filling the cracks with whatever catches my eye and, perhaps most importantly, whatever I can watch with the BAJILLION streaming services I’m already paying for.  So then!  Does this thriller deserve a second chance at relevance now that it’s graced the front page of Netflix, or is this just more filler for an already bloated catalog of films that no one has heard of?  Let’s find out!!

Ellen Ashland (Madelaine Petsch) is having a rough go of it.  Not only was she attacked by a masked stranger, they sprayed her in the eyes with a chemical that has left her permanently blind and now she has to move to a new apartment to adjust to living a life without vision.  Thankfully she comes from money and her brother not only covers the apartment but also pays for a nurse named Clayton (Alexander Koch) to take care of her and ease the transition.  Ellen is certainly not taking this turn of events with good humor and spends a lot of her time feeling miserable for herself despite the constant efforts by Clayton to get her to open up and embrace her new life, but as the days stretch on she starts to notice strange things around her.  There’s a couple next door that seem to be hiding some awful secrets, she starts to feel and hear things that may or may not be there, and you’d think she’d get at least one Get Well card!  I know that forwarding mail can be a pain, but still!  All of these strange things quickly add up and she finds herself in a situation where she can’t trust anything; least of all her own sense.  Is Ellen stuck with a bad case of paranoia after such a terrible attack and a life changing event?  Is there something in her past that’s coming back to bite her now that she’s in a much more vulnerable situation?  Is it just me, or does this dude look like five hot guys mashed into one; from Tom Welling circa 2003 to that Philosophy Tube guy.

“You can’t see me, so imagine me however you’d like.”     “Okay, I’m picturing Nicolas Cage.”     “I… don’t think I have that acting range.”

The movie is perfectly serviceable for what it’s trying to accomplish, but that’s also what makes it so frustrating to sit through.  It has the potential to rise above it’s rather baseline level of tension and thrills but doesn’t seems to know how to fill in the minor details to really make it shine and instead just sticks with the broadest strokes to get the job done.  Something sillier, crasser, more brutal, or even sweeter, all could have given this movie some sort of edge, but it all fee ls rather toothless and hallow despite its nifty setup and solid execution.  It’s VERY clearly inspired by the success of The Invisible Man last year and I don’t begrudge another studio for trying to do something similar, but this movie should have copied it’s depth of characters, genuinely sense of urgency, and occasionally bout of dark humor if it really wanted to follow its example.

“Is that you, Clayton?”     “No.”     “Darn it…”

Right off the bat, the movie makes it clear that SOMETHING is up and the script does a good job teasing out the clues to you little by little.  The perfect nurse to help her with all her needs, the apartment that her brother got her on such short notice, the friends whose voicemails are always full, this creates an atmosphere of isolation and creates all sorts of opportunities for chicanery to play out at Ellen’ expense.   The film also does a neat trick early on to confirm for the audience that we aren’t actually seeing the real world; rather the interpretation of it that Ellen is imagining as she walks through the rooms of her new apartment and her new life.  Sadly they don’t take as much advantage of this as  I would have liked, as I would have loved to see things change in real time as she got to learn about her environment; perhaps let everything be blank and hazy until a bit of time has passed and everything is put into focus.  Then again you don’t want to overplay your hand by constantly reminding the audience that things may not be as they appear, and when we finally get to THE BIG TWIST they use it in very fun and creative ways.  It’s a scenario that effectively builds tension as you look around for more clues as to what is truly going on and are eagerly anticipating the shoe to inevitably drop.

We were in the bird’s dream the entire time!  IT WAS SO OBVIOUS!!

Unfortunately all this restraint in the first two thirds of the movie means that everything else has to keep your interest as it methodically teases out the juicer parts, and this is where the movie just doesn’t have the depth it needs for the premise to work.  I just don’t find the performances particularly engaging, nor do I find the characters backstories all that compelling which is a shame because that’s all they’ve got to entertain us with when they aren’t doing spooky stuff. Ellen is understandably closed off after what happened to her, but what that translates to in the daytime scenes is clipped conversations and frustrating silence.  They get into a backstory about her ex-husband that feels like VERY IMPORTANT exposition in a thriller like this, but there’s no flavor or specificity to it.  Oh sure, everyone ELSE in the story seems to know all the detail, especially Clayton who says they did a google search on her, but we don’t have the luxury of that so it’s just the Cliff Notes for us!  Speaking of Clayton, his character is hampered by the knowledge that a twist IS coming and so it’s hard to feel anything genuine for him.  Maybe it’s just the actor’s performance, but he always seems to be working an angle with not just his story about his sick mom and the whole “you see the real me” nonsense, but his overly saccharin performance that sounds fake the whole time.  He comes into his own later for reasons I won’t get into here, but so much of the middle of this movie is like that; bland conversations with characters you don’t believe or even particularly care about.  I think the problem is that by the end it’s clear that Ellen just doesn’t have any stake in anything going on.  She doesn’t have a dark secret that she’s trying to hide and the scenario doesn’t really play into anything she’s done; she’s just kind of unlucky to be in this situation which engenders some sympathy but is far from compelling characterization.

“Have you seen my character arc?   I just can’t seem to find it anywhere…”

Now as stated already there’s a twist that I won’t spoil it here, and of course its ten pounds of screwy in a five pound bag.  That’s what I like about it though as I don’t know why you’d go into a movie like this and NOT expect things to go a bit goofy at the end, but let’s just say it’s kind of a low stakes conclusion considering the red herrings that were set up throughout this.  The SCOPE of it all is perfectly executed and more or less exactly what I had predicted, but it’s the motivation of the perpetrators that felt a bit deflating and frankly I’ve seen this kind of twist done much better in movies I could name but sadly can’t for fear of revealing too much.  It’s a shame because the ending really does lift this movie up from pretty humdrum to something half way decent, but I ended up rolling my eyes through most of it and not because I found it endearing.  It’s just another aspect of this movie that feels like it COULD have been more but settled for the broad strokes; not necessarily BAD broad strokes, but we know how something like this could be done better and yet the film doesn’t really seem up to the challenge.

Wait, it was twins the whole time? I mean, uh… I knew that!!

Perhaps I’m being overly negative here as I did enjoy quite a bit of this movie, but there’s just too little depth or real meaty steaks involved for it to work on a level outside of its mystery.  Given the right material (and usually a decent budget), a movie can work as a puzzle box and rely entirely on the spectacle of its unfolding levels of misdirection, but more often than not you really need a solid performance to anchor it, and Madelaine Petsch is just not given enough material outside of reacting to things to really carry the film all on her shoulders.  If her character had been a bad person, or if the romance between the two characters didn’t feel like such an obvious set up then the ending could have hit harder, but the dullness of the middle act and the

 It’s certainly not a waste of time and I think a lot of people will get a kick out of that ending, but it’s not something you need to rush to see; especially with so many other movies like it vying for people’s constant attention.  Sightless?  More like a slight mess, am I right!?

2.5 out of 5

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