Beginning with the most gripping sequence of making a bed you are likely to see, the film forms the second of Bruchon’s trilogy that began with The Woman with Leopard Shoes and will continue with Point de Fuite. The trilogy is based upon different versions of ‘thriller’, with each entry using the same production methods and, most distinctively, a single character, a single location and a singular story told through images and sound. In the case of The Eyes Below, our character is Eugène (Vinicius Coelho), a lawyer working on a major case, who turns in only to face the most horrendous terrors of the night.
Fear of going to bed is primal and may persist beyond childhood, from ensuring the wardrobe is closed to everything being switched off to the classic checking under the bed for something. Bruchon taps into and exploits this fear with an incredible 77 minutes of tension, intrigue and fear. As the fire burns low and the lights dim in his bedroom, Eugène is troubled by a mysterious figure whose eyes appear in the darkness. Is it a dream? Is it a cat? Is it a home invader? Is it something supernatural? What does ‘2 35’ mean? What about the mysterious symbols? As Eugène tries to understand what is happening, explanations are provided, some being red herrings, others making sense.
What remains constant is the fear. There is the fear over whether you are alone or not, with the intricate production design turning what should be the safe environment of one’s inner sanctum into a menacing space of shadows and hidden alcoves, wheree yes and even hands appear alarmingly. There is the fear of something under the bed but also something in the bed, a deeply invasive fear that is presented through intimate cinematography where eerie slime starts to spread, and the very folds of a duvet become threatening. The sense of intimacy and claustrophobia taps into the fear of being unable to wake up, which can manifest as a desperate clawing out of sleep where bedclothes and even one’s own body become unbearably heavy. And there is the fear of dreams that frustratingly evade meaning. The (possible) dream sequences echo the work of David Lynch as well as Wes Craven, as Eugène struggles to squeeze through the space between bed frame and mattress and finds himself surrounded by seemingly endless drapes of fabric. While these moments are reminiscent of Twin Peaks’ Red Room, they also feel distinctive, not least due to Bruchon’s decision to eschew dialogue. The wordless quality of the film, with the only non-incidental sounds being rapid breathing and gasps, helps with its universality. While there are words on screen such as print in books and emails, these can be translated depending on where the film is screened, but the lack of speech makes Eugène entirely relatable as his actions and gestures feel universal without the specificity of language.
Also fundamental is the blurred line between sleep and wakefulness, leading to a recognisable lack of clarity over how much we see is reality, a dream, or perhaps even a vision or premonition. This obfuscation may frustrate some viewers, as may the obvious question of why does Eugène not get out of bed when it is clearly terrifying to be there? Despite the various terrors, he spends much of his time leafing through books (all of which are conveniently on the shelves above his bed) and trying to unravel a mystery. But as so much of what is happening may be a dream, trying to figure something out could be the best way of resolving that issue. Furthermore, the occasional departures from the bed do little to resolve the tension, so there is no sense of release or escape.
That Bruchon has crafted such a gripping experience within such limitations is extraordinary, made even more impressive by the small number of people involved. As well as writing and directing, Bruchon serves as producer, cinematographer, editor, composer and sound engineer. He has co-credit on artistic direction with Pauline Morel, who designed costumes and oversaw construction and technique and performs alongside Coelho. This remarkable trio of creatives have successfully assembled a genuine nightmare that will likely have the viewer clutching their heart while watching, and then checking every part of their bedroom carefully before (maybe) turning out the lights.