Filmed with a minuscule cast in a single location, new Canadian thriller Open Your Eyes hits too many familiar beats to provide any genuine thrills for viewers.
Written and directed by Greg A. Sager, Open Your Eyes follows a lived-in premise revolving around a writer who just can’t seem to make any progress on his script. Screenwriter Jason Miller (Ry Barrett) is holed up in his apartment trying to focus on the project as a distraction from a recent traumatic experience. As his mental health begins to fray, a mysterious stain leaking down his walls from the apartment above and a cat rattling around a vent pull his concentration from the task at hand. Soon he meets a mysterious woman next door, Lisa (Joanna Saul), and quickly becomes intrigued. As he burns the midnight oil with writing and with Lisa, Jason’s grip on reality slowly begins to unravel and he is forced to confront his past.
It’s an intriguing and genre-blending premise but one we’ve seen before. There are plenty of thrillers and dramas about struggling writers at odds with not just their latest project, but their mental state. You only need look to everything from Shirley to Secret Window to even Ruby Sparks. But Open Your Eyes knows this, marketing itself as “The Shining meets The Dark Half“, which is perhaps too ambitious a comparison. There’s also the fact that, unfortunately, the same concept has been done more successfully elsewhere. By the time the thriller ratchets up the intensity and reaches its climax, every viewer who has ever watched a movie about a writer knows where this is going. A slow burn, it takes far too long to get going and by the time a hint of originality shows up, it’s far too late.
Exploring an isolated character’s mental state following trauma has also been explored before in films, most recently in Frida Kempff’s Sundance thriller Knocking, which sees its lead plagued by a mysterious knocking sound coming from the walls in her apartment that only she can hear. While Knocking may also reach inevitable conclusions, it does so with more tension and atmosphere than Open Your Eyes manages to muster.
Toronto-based thesp Ry Barrett does the majority of the heavy-lifting here, acting without a scene partner and with minimal dialogue for most of the movie. Barrett is a fine enough performer to carry the lean script, but the introduction of Saul’s Lisa brings any momentum he has built to a complete halt. There is a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads, which is all the more unfortunate when the entire cast is comprised of just those two actors. It would have been reached a more enjoyable conclusion if Barrett had remained the only character on screen, triggering his own recollection of the trauma that brought him to his current state.
Open Your Eyes seems to have the bones of a good psychological thriller and does well with its minimal budget, but the elements just don’t quite come together enough for a truly thrilling experience.
Open Your Eyes is available on digital release on June 1.