Stuart G. Bennett, Megan Lee Ethridge, Ryan Reyes, David M. Hoch, Michele Matheson, Susan Spano, Zander Schloss
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
NR (Equiv. to "R")
84 Mins. (est.)
Have you ever been really lonely?
Eugene is really lonely. Loneliness is a killer.
Eugene, the subject of writer/director Jake Barsha's debut feature film "Eugene," is a 30-something loner who doesn't really want to be alone. Yet, he is a socially awkward and uncomfortable man who seems ill-fitting with everyone whom he meets. Eugene can't hold a job or make friends and his attempts to date would be laughable if they weren't so painful.
As Barsha slowly and patiently peels away the layers of Eugene's persona, this sad and lonely man becomes increasingly disturbing and just plain creepier. Eugene visits a prostitute, an encounter that leaves him even more confused and leads him to pay a young hustler for a hug.
Back and forth we go with Eugene, a man who manages to be both sympathetic and psychotic in the hands of lead Stuart G. Bennett, who offers Eugene a strikingly human and humane performance. While it would be difficult to pinpoint a "message" in this multi-layered psychological thriller, there's little denying that loneliness is, indeed, a killer and Eugene is lonely in every cell of his being.
Along the way, we learn more about Eugene's childhood, his passions, his circumstances and his seemingly unsatisfied cravings. These revelations, rather surprisingly, don't seem designed to excuse the increasingly dangerous man's behavior but rather they simply reveal how Eugene became Eugene and, in bits and pieces, exactly who Eugene has become. It's intelligent character development without a hint of manipulation.
"Eugene" is the kind of film that Hollywood would have likely ruined, turning Eugene into a Jigsaw-type character or by turning up the volume on the homicidal mayhem. Instead, Jake Barsha has created one of 2009's low-budget indie highlights by turning down the volume and allowing Eugene's character to develop slowly over the course of the film and for his seemingly slow-building creepiness to weave itself throughout those whom he encounters, most notably a young hustler (Ryan Reyes) and his beautiful girlfriend, Heather (Megan Lee Ethridge) until tragedy is heartbreakingly inevitable.
Along with Bennett's revelatory performance, Ryan Reyes and Megan Lee Ethridge both shine in key supporting roles as the young couple Eugene befriends and, in his own twisted way, tries to help. Be sure to watch, as well, for a brief appearance by Zander Schloss, bass player for the iconic Circle Jerks.
Despite the obvious challenges that go with a limited budget, Marc Levy's camera work is stellar in the way it sets both the mood and the tone for the film, while the original music of John Clement Wood further complements the many layers of "Eugene." Kudos as well to Barsha and stunt coordinator Zack Duhame for managing to create action sequences that convince and compel without the benefit extensive editing that helps to add force and intensity. Instead, the action and fight sequences in "Eugene" feel more achingly natural and reliant on the true physicality of the performers. This adds a richness and complements the film's humanity.
With moments of tenderness wrapped like a bow around its disturbingly real psychological thrills, "Eugene" is one of 2009's best indie offerings. Fore more information on "Eugene," visit the film's website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic