Directed by Brendan Muldowney
At first glance, you’d never expect that the distinctly European setting established in writer-director Brendan Muldowney’s second feature, Love Eternal, was originally inspired by a Japanese novel by Kei Oishi, author of “Ju-On”. Oishi’s work helped usher in a new era in Japanese horror that the United States was more than willing to copy from in films like The Grudge. Now, a decidedly Irish take on Oishi’s material has emerged and it’s not as much of a culture clash as you might expect.
Dealing with death from an early age, loner Ian Harding – played with eerie stoicism by Dutch actor Robert de Hoog – forms a warped sense of reality after living through the death of a classmate and both his parents. He shuts himself off from the outside world for a decade, becoming a mute obsessed with his own form of cave painting on the walls of his idyllic home. Slowly driving himself closer and closer to the edge, Ian decides to finally end his own life by suffocating on engine fumes in his car. However, once on the verge of death he is happened upon by an entire family on a very twisted vacation. Group suicide is number one on their trip’s itinerary but Ian decides to pull the teenage daughter to safety, more out of a demented impulse and curiosity than a natural desire to rescue her.
He begins to play house with the weakened teen, and these early scenes might remind you of the sexist undertones of Jennifer Lynch’s controversial film Boxing Helena from the early ‘90s. Instead of playing out this way, Ian digs up his immaculate backyard and buries the poor girl. Moving on, he cruises suicide forums for his next victim.
Once he meets the mettlesome goth girl, Naomi (Pollyanna McIntosh from Lucky McKee’s The Woman), Muldowney’s story becomes more about the desperate desire for connection, allowing for some much needed pathos and understanding. Even though he’s obviously mentally deranged, Robert de Hoog shows the inherent sweetness of Ian’s character and how he learns to finally live by hanging out with people who are obsessed with death. They connect because of how screwed up they are. Suddenly, they wind up experiencing the joys of life because their inability to connect with the rest of the world makes connecting with each other absolutely effortless.
Where a film like Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers explores a similar idea as dark comedy, Love Eternal is far more poetic and reflective, largely due to the positively sparkling cinematography of Muldowney’s previous cohort Tom Comerford. An Irishman himself, Comerford makes the surroundings come alive, dovetailing and contrasting with the film’s darker scenes and its surprisingly uplifting moments as well. The perfectly timed-out score of Dutch composer Bart Westerlaken also brings a kind of fairy tale wonder to some sequences, mirroring the feelings that Ian and Pollyanna are experiencing.
Although the film’s actual location is never really revealed, Muldowney uses his lead character to quietly represent the Irish temperament of malaise that can come from years of hardship and isolation. Pairing this with the misguided but proud tradition of honorable suicide – an undeniable part of Japanese culture – makes Love Eternal more relatable because it makes the story’s themes of depression and alienation truly universal.
3 out of 5