'That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes': An Ambitious Misfire [Review]
Onur Tukel is one of the hardest working filmmakers around, consistently churning out new projects including two feature films being released in 2021. He writes bold, bizarre, uncompromising stories that few others would even dare to try. He's charmed & baffled viewers with films such as Applesauce, The Misogynists, and Catfight, but his latest, titled That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes, might be both his most unique and most alienating. It could certainly appeal to a very specific contingent of self-selecting audience members craving something different and unclassifiable, but even his most ardent fans may struggle getting onboard with this confounding genre-bender.
The film follows Leonard (Franck Raharinosy), a dead-beat 40-something getting out of a toxic relationship with Marie (Army of the Dead star Nora Arnezeder) while still depending on her for housing, food, and emotional support. When her pretentious gay artist father (Alan Ceppos) arrives and makes himself at home in their New York apartment, complete with nude male models galore & repeated chides toward Leonard, our protagonist's tenuous grip on reality becomes even more fragile than it already was.
It's an intriguing premise that delves into satiric critiques of the contemporary art world, conspiracy theories about 5G, unsatisfying and exploitative workplaces, and gay culture, but it never feels clear as to what it's trying to say or be. At moments it's a comedy, at others it's a drama, but throughout it feels like a horror science-fiction fantasy, tinged with unease, uncertainty, and confusion. Genre-hybridity can be extraordinarily exciting and special, but it can also feel misguided and overstuffed. Unfortunately, this time it fell into the latter camp.
Strong satire demands a clear target with distinct purpose so there is no mistaking critique for condoning, and that is notably lacking. Tukel prioritizes shock value, narrative ambiguity, and dynamic visuals over effective or nuanced storytelling, leaving his viewer impressed in some moments but deeply frustrated about others.
Everyone's character & personality are flattened to tiring degrees. The film's version of New York is a fully unreal one that loses much of the real place's essence, authenticity, or depth. Its unique focuses around contemporary social issues are all underdeveloped, squandering an opportunity for relevant & incisive dissections of modern city life, relationships, and their challenges. If you were hoping the film's end may tie up loose ends or clarify its intentions, you'd be sorely dismayed.
Open-ended stories with room for an audience to insert their own interpretations of the material presented can provide a one-of-a-kind viewing experience and work to keep the viewer engaged. This movie certainly accomplishes the former, but whether those who see That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes will be engaged or simply infuriated is still to be seen. My bets are not optimistic in that regard.
It is exciting to see risk-takers like Tukel working so prolifically without compromising on their idiosyncratic visions, embodying the DIY spirit of independent film. But it is inevitable for there to be misses among the hits when you make as many projects as Tukel does. And ultimately I'd much rather see imperfect yet daring projects than the usual collection of polished yet lifeless movies that are following a well-trod path to profit. A crowdpleaser or critic's pick this is not, but it may have a future as a cult classic.