Directed by Cooper Karl
Sensory horror strikes back. That is to say, movies in which the victim, or in the case of Don’t Breathe the killer, lacks at least one sense. The list is long, including flicks like Wait Until Dark, See No Evil, The Eye and, this century, Jennifer’s Eyes, Hush, In Darkness, The Silence and A Quiet Place. Its latest entry is a feature debut from writer/ director Cooper Karl, now streaming on Netflix. An expansion of his 2017 short with the same name and concept. The set up is quite like some of the movies mentioned before and a lot like others.
Ellen (Petsch, who is in the streaming giant’s tweenage take on Twin Peaks, Riverdale) is a prodigious musician, with a gold-selling record, who gets accosted one night. Waking the following morning on a hospital bed, she finds somebody stole her vision (importantly, she did not lose it). Luckily her brother can provide her with some accommodation – a lovely modern apartment, where her handsome nurse Clayton (Koch) is on hand to help in her transition. However, she finds herself struggling with memories of that night – flashbacks, that the opening scene tells us will eventually lead to her leaping off her balcony. Noises also keep her up at night – the neighbours, who seem to be arguing a lot, and the sounds of someone trying to break in. It could all be her imagination. Or perhaps her assailant is hiding in plain sight.
I’ll stop there, though there are twists and turns throughout. Unfortunately, they are ones I suspect the majority of viewers will see coming. I’m not hugely adept at spotting endings and regularly miss obvious ones out. Though with Sightless, I called 90% of it at the earliest possible opportunity – including who had stolen Ellen’s sight, along with something even easier. It’s almost impressively predictable. For that reason, it surprises me the script got greenlit in its present form, since it watches like a patchwork of different high profiles movies combined into something more by the numbers. No, not everything has to be new and unexpected. Though if there’s one genre where you’d hope this happens, it’s mystery films. Karl presumably knew audiences would catch on, so there are red herrings aplenty. The problem is that, for reasons that are essential to the plot, they are so clearly red herrings. What’s frustrating is that the solution you should see coming isn’t even a neat one, with convenient editing struggling to conceal gaping plot holes.
Yet it’s still, sort of, fun (a quote Netflix are welcome to use for their advertising). After its sluggish first act, Sightless is a semi-enjoyable watch – despite many flaws. The pace picks up a lot, and there’s an almost trash-watch appeal about it as events become increasingly melodramatic. Some bits worked for me, without irony, too. I dug the way Karl sometimes tells the story through Ellen’s eyes. It’s not that she’s an intentionally unreliable narrator. But, as some novel scenes show, we’re not getting a literal telling of her story here. Instead, it’s a perspective piece, and where she doesn’t know something, she’s filling in the blanks. It’s perception vs reality. For instance, there are bits where the things she pictures change as she gets more information and other times where the threat seems to come from all angles. Hence, most horror-oriented sequences revolve around Ellen’s uncertainty of who may or may not be in the room with her. In that respect, her blindness is more there for as a device for escalating tension than character drama. She doesn’t seem all that inconvenienced outside the horror scenes, and there’s not that much dramatic meat for Putsch to get her teeth into. On that point, she does an admirable performance here, often rising above the material. Not so much that I was invested in what occurs next, but enough that I wanted to watch it happen.
Sightless is available on Netflix now.