Contemporary film noir is often referred to as Neo-noir, since at least the historic reasons for the existence of noir (disenchantment with the establishment, post-war malaise, reaction against the “norm” of postwar America) seem no longer relevant. So to try and make a neo-noir film today, and to up the ante by using mannequins instead of live actors, seems like either a crazy and innovative political and filmic statement, or an excuse for a crazy joke. Director Daniel Erickson’s second feature film falls somewhere in the middle.
Eve and William seem to have a good life. Their young marriage is stable, Eve has recently become pregnant, and while they’re not rich, they have enough money to get by. That is, until Ramon shows up. Ramon knew Eve long before William did, and employed her in a less than desirable trade. Apparently Eve ran out before her contract was up, and Ramon has come to collect.
When Todd Haynes used Barbie dolls to force the viewer to understand the stigma and pain of anorexia and the pressure of fame in Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, the affect was quite disturbing. Perhaps I went into Eve’s Necklace with the same kind of expectation. And to a certain extent, the use of mannequins works. William is a generically handsome man, nothing special except to Eve. Eve is beautiful and, as a former porn star, her status as an object is emphasized through the use of the doll. Ramon’s metaphoric facelessness as a doll adds emphasis to his status as a person who exploits the object, never seen by the public and yet benefitting from the object.
Unfortunately, the problems with the film appear to be mainly technical. While John Hawkes (Deadwood, Winter’s Bone) as the voice of William is fantastic, the voices of Eve and Ramon (Veronica Erickson and Kevin Simon) are flat and boring. If you’re going to use mannequins for bodies, you need to have good actors to give them life. And while no viewer would expect the mannequins to move in the same way that humans do, it stands to reason that a little time and effort spent on practicing with the mannequins could go a long way. In several scenes where the mannequins were meant to be moving quickly, their complete lack of speed (or perhaps their amateurish handling by whomever was moving them) made the shot humourous as oppose to suspenseful. Most of the time, the mannequins sucked the life out of the story instead of giving it an interesting context and perception.
The use of mannequins is a good idea, if a) it can work within the narrative and themes of a film, and b) it is done professionally. I don’t expect Erickson wished for his film to be laughed at (and it was a fair amount during the screening I attended and not because of the script.) With a little more effort, the concept could have worked. Unfortunately, more often than not it fell flat.