In 2009, a Brazilian television show host drew worldwide media attention for his nefarious approach to producing Canal Livre, which was, ironically, an immensely popular crime and punishment programme. Wallace Souza, the accused, was suspected of hiring hitmen to kill five people for the purpose of cultivating hands-on and first-to-the-scene graphic footage, generating interest in the show and boosting ratings.
Detractors have denounced his actions as immoral (an understatement, to be sure), but his inquest posits a more equivocal proposition. Yes, killing is wrong (we’ve all been taught that; presumably, Mr. Souza as well), but was what he did worth it? To become the most famous face on Brazilian television, to have the most popular show on air, to be both rich and respected, for however long he was, Mr. Souza certainly felt that the lives of five people was expendable.
In a cursory and uninspired segue, this brings us to Eddie The Sleepwalking Cannibal, a surprisingly cerebral but slightly insensate take on the aforementioned issue. Although a cleverly ornate look at artistic obsession, the film lacks the grisly payoff promised by its set-up.
The story follows Lars Olaafsen (Thure Lindhardt), a Danish painter. Once a young celebrity in the art world, he no longer indulges in the sordid muse that helped him paint, and hasn’t sold anything in a decade. Hoping to move on with his life, he takes up a teaching job in the remote, snow-covered Canadian town of Koda Lake.
There, he befriends a mute gentle giant named Eddie (Dylan Smith), whose aunt was a major patron to the school. Following her death, Eddie has no place to go, so, in order to preserve the existence of the school, Lars takes him in.
One night, Lars discovers a rather grim attribute in Eddie (the clue is in the title), which, in turn, reignites his equally grim artistic fuse. This revelation acts as an artistic Viagra to his creative impotence, and as he acquiesces to his reputation as an enfant gâté, Lars becomes a monster in his own right.
Although the film is named after him, we really don’t know all that much about Eddie. We never know why he is the way he is, how he got that way, or what he does when he’s sleepwalking. In fact, for the majority of the film, the camera shies away from his gruesome escapades. This betrays the inherent excitement of having a sleepwalking cannibal in the movie, as we rarely see him sleepwalking or cannibalizing. The thrills in Eddie are few and far between.
But, on the other hand, we come to realize that Eddie is a conduit for Lars and his story arc, the film’s real raison d’être, and this is where it succeeds. As he embraces his art once again, we come to see Lars as immoral, but, at least, we can see where he’s coming from. With a strongly apropos supporting cast, like his fellow art teacher and love interest Lesley (Georgina Reilly) and his domineering art dealer Ronny (Stephen McHattie), we understand Lars’ frustrations, pressures, and imposed expectations.
Eddie The Sleepwalking Cannibal isn’t as tantalizing as the name would suggest, but it does have a brimming well of depth. There isn’t a lot of horror or humour, but the insight is surprisingly nuanced (like the wry use of classical music and radio commentary), making the film an intriguing compendium on artistic ethics. Eddie will likely provoke discussion and afterthought, and, in a way, that’s precisely the point of art. Let’s just hope they didn’t have to kill anything to make it.
– Justin Li