While the title of the Canadian and Danish co-production Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal might suggest a far goofier and more tongue in cheek film, director Boris Rodriguez has crafted a dark comedy with sly wit and genuine good will for a film about someone who really can’t stop eating flesh in his sleep. It’s also a pretty keen observation on how people can search for the “meaning” of art in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons.
Danish art teacher and burnt out painter Lars Olafson (Thure Lindhardt) makes his way to the sleepy hamlet of Koda Lake in rural Canada, simply content to teaching at a floundering arts school and never producing anything himself. In his class sits an older mute named Eddie (Dylan Smith) who draws and paints only simple and violent things, but he’s also the only student Lars takes a shine to. After learning that his aunt has passed away, Eddie is pawned off on Lars with hopes that he can take care of him so the school will continue to receive money from his dead mother’s estate. When it turns out that Eddie actually wakes up in the middle of the night and goes out to eat humans and animals raw, Lars stumbles across a new inspiration to reignite his painting career in his charge’s grisly aftermath, saving his livelihood and his job, while raising a lot of questions in the process.
Rodriguez not only shoots and directs his cast with a lot of energy, but he also forces them to take the material as seriously as possible. The film gets most of its strength not from forced gags or gross out material, but from actual good writing delivered by a cast that knows exactly how to make it work. The relationship between Lars and Eddie is built upon genuine feeling, which makes the eventual rift between them all the more effective. While Eddie acts as the impetus to Lars’ career resurgence, the film cleverly portrays artistic success as an addiction that can ruin the most amicable, if unorthodox, of relationships. Even the reasons for Eddie’s cannibalism are more melancholic than humorous, making the interplay between Lindhardt and Smith even stronger as a result.
Although the film settles into a groove where an almost standard list of horror movie victims get dispatched one by one, Rodriguez never makes the film an outright “gore for the sake of gore” exploitation film. He loves his characters far too much to do that, and he allows Lindhardt, Smith, and the supporting cast plenty of room among the shocks to actually explore the feelings and motivations of these characters. Even Georgina Reilly, playing Lars’ token love interest and co-worker, has some really interesting things to do in a role that could have been thankless in lesser hands. Stephen McHattie shows up briefly as Lars’ former agent and is still able to make an impression; not just because McHattie is playing the character, but because he has an obvious reason and function to the story that will last beyond just a showy cameo.
To call Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal a horror comedy would be doing it a disservice since the “horror” isn’t all that terrifying. In a way, it’s a bit like a Tim Burton film where the darker and nastier elements are amplified to shine a light on deeper human truths. It’s pretty damned funny, well made, and surprising overall in almost every way. It’s a small movie, but one filled with a lot of things to think about and far more satisfying than a lot of other offerings coming out closer to Halloween. It’s a great kick off to the season; easing you into the scares with reassurance rather than throwing you headlong into the haunted woods.