Starring: Goran Visnjic, Shirley Henderson, Miranda Otto, Paddy Considine, Fiona Shaw, Sophie Stuckey
Rated R for Violence and Language
"Close Your Eyes" has an intriguing concept: a hypnotist who can see into a person's subconscious and influence their mind helps a cop track down a serial killer. It's a great idea and the movie contains some nice performances. But the film is lacking in other areas that makes it tough to recommend.
Michael Strother (Visnjic) is a hypnotherapist who specializes in helping people quit smoking. Unlike most hypnotists or psychics, he can actually practice what he preaches. He can peer into a person's deepest part of the mind and get them to change their behavior. One day he is helping Janet Losey (Henderson), when he in her mind he sees a little girl floating underwater. On her way out the door, he mentions this to her in an off hand way. It turns out that she is investigating the Tattoo murders, where a number of children have been found murdered with mysterious tattoos found on their bodies. The latest victim, a girl named Heather (Stuckey), escaped the killer's clutches, but she isn't able to speak. Janet thinks that Michael can help, but he wants no part of it (his tax avoidance practices convince him otherwise). Now they're trying to stop a killer who worships a heretical priest before he strikes again. Or worse.
The film uses a lot of pseudoscience, but since director and co-writer Nick Willing doesn't waste a lot of time explaining it and instead trusts that we'll accept it at face value, it's hardly a hurdle. The plot is more formula than anything, but at least the flavor is different.
The performances are right on the money. Goran Visnjic is an ideal choice for the hypnotist. His voice is hypnotic, so it's easy to accept him in the role. But Visnjic, an alumni of the hit TV show "ER," is a fine actor, more than compensating for the weaknesses in the writing. In his hands, Michael Strother becomes real. Shirley Henderson, a quirky British character actress who can do just about anything, is also in fine form. Unusual for her, there's nothing really weird or offbeat about Janet Losey; the part was written straight, and she plays it as such (and absolutely nails it). Miranda Otto, sporting an uncannily flawless American accent, plays Michael's beleaguered (and heavily pregnant) wife.
Unfortunately, the film suffers behind the camera. Whether due to budget constraints or something else, the film looks bad. It's not Dogma 95 (camera movements and unnatural lighting disqualify it), but there are times when it looks close. With an almost complete lack of a musical score and atmosphere, Willing appears to be avoiding any sort of manipulation. But this is the kind of story that needs a confident director who can find the right note for this material. Maybe Roman Polanski.
To be sure, "Close Your Eyes" has its moments. The performances are nice, the scenes in the subconscious are suitably surreal, and there is some suspense towards the end. But it's just not strong enough for me to recommend outright.