Edinburgh International Film Festival

Two Eyes Staring (Zwart Water) (2010)

Starring: Hadewych Minis, Barry Atsma, Isabelle Stokkel, Charlotte Arnoldy

Directed by: Elbert van Strien

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Isabelle Stokkel as Lisa in Two Eyes Staring

Two Eyes Staring is billed as 'the scariest Dutch horror film since The Vanishing.' This, it transpires in the introductory session with director Elbert van Strien, is not that hard, as it's very nearly the only Dutch horror film made since.

Nine-year-old Lisa (Isabelle Stokkel) is a solemn, thoughtful little girl with a big imagination; a quiet, watchful little body who sees and hears more than she should. Not the kind of child best suited to living in a vast, creepy mansion in the middle of nowhere, plagued by spook, unexplained creaks and groans. But when her estranged grandmother dies, leaving her mother just such a property, guess what happens…

But are the eerie and disturbing events that unfold the consequence of Lisa's fertile fantasy life, fuelled by her unnerving surroundings and the mysteries shrouding her mother's hidden past, or are there, in fact, supernatural forces at work, feeding on the sins of the past and revisiting them on the next generation?

But there's more to this film than hollow-eyed ghost girls, perilous forays into the cellar and things that go bump in the night. Like Rosemary's Baby or previous EIFF showing Joshua, Two Eyes Staring is a fascinating and uncomfortable expose of the sometimes uneasy relationships that exist between parent and child. Lisa's father Paul (Barry Atsma) is by turns best buddy and stern disciplinarian, while mother Christine (Hadewych Minis) struggles to balance her career ambitions with bringing up a child who reminds her uncomfortably of demons from her past, and is in turn resentful, doting and unnerved by her quietly staring offspring.

Okay, so there isn't a lot here you haven't seen before. Spooky houses, dark pasts and creepy children are hardly novel. But unexpected twists in the plot, a fantastic use of music and sound effects to create an atmosphere of unease and some solid central performances all serve to make Two Eyes Staring well worth seeing.

But is it scary? Perhaps better ask the two girls sitting next to me, who leapt out of their skins on regular intervals. For them it was less Two Eyes Staring, more like Two Eyes Shut

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