May 19, 2012
After radically reinventing the vampire film with Nadja (1994), auteur Michael Almereyda subsequently attempted to do the same thing with the mummy movie via The Eternal: Kiss of the Mummy (1998) aka Trance with almost equally favorable results. Further declaring his unwavering assiduity towards deconstructing a classic horror subgenre and rebuilding it with new and often improved ingredients (while disposing of others), The Eternal features a mummy that also happens to be an ancient shape-shifting druid witch. Instead of being the typical pimped-out and gold-chain-sporting materialistic mummified Egyptian royal, the mummy of The Eternal is a “bog-women”; a freshly preserved corpse unearthed from the sphagnum bogs of Northern Europa. Of course, like most monster movies, the mummy of The Eternal is not the protagonist, but a hostile sphinxlike force with cryptic intentions and a mostly ferocious disposition comparable to the mummified succubus beauty of Curtis Harrington's worthwhile Thelema-esque TV-movie The Cat Creature (1973). Instead, an Irish-born American woman named Nora (played by Alison Elliott) acts as the film's lead protagonist/semi-anti-hero. After falling down the stairs (in an admittedly hilarious and hairbrained manner) during a belligerent night of drinking with her equally unstable co-alcoholic husband Jim (Jared Harris), the terrible twosome decides that it will be in their best interest if they (with their nerdy young son Jim Jr.) move to Ireland; the great land of exceedingly poor and destitute drunkards. Of course, it turns out to be a catastrophic mistake on their part, but not for the typical blackout-drunk-in-the-gutter reasons. Upon reaching Ireland, Nora decides that the family should visit her grandmother’s secluded Gothic mansion. Little does Nora know that her crank professor Uncle Bill (played by a very Brooklyn-accented Christopher Walken) has the mummified remains of a distant ancestor stored in the basement of the maniac mansion and he is quite adamant about re-animating the charming little corpse. Upon her reawakening, the menacing mummy-witch takes an instant liking to Nora, so much so that she attempts to steal her body, soul, and identity. Naturally, such sinister supernatural happenings prove to be indomitably stressful for Alison, a woman that is already suffering from acute alcohol withdraw and eerie head-injury-related hallucinations. Needless to say, I doubt The Eternal is a work that one would want to screen at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for motivational/inspirational purposes, but it does seem to capture the miserable soul-disintegrating metaphysics of alcoholism. To add to the Celtic pagan allure that is The Eternal, the film is narrated by a Delphian little Irish girl that seems to hold a seemingly unfathomable degree of hermetic knowledge.
Like Nadja and the majority of Michael Almereyda’s work, The Eternal features various scenes of fluctuant experimental filmmaking and deathly dry humor that is bound to thoroughly turn-off the majority of everyday filmgoers and mainstream horror fanatics. Unlike Nadja, The Eternal was shot in color and does not feature the peculiar pixilation of the Fisher-Price PXL2000 camera, thus the film is slightly more accessible than Almereyda’s earlier vampire flick, at least in the aesthetic sense. Ultimately, The Eternal is a vastly vague and strikingly spiritual work that is quite in contrast with the all-but-hopeless aristocratic nihilism of Nadja. Admittedly, I know next to nothing about ancient Celtic paganism yet The Eternal seems to more than aptly ascertain and resonate the essence of these arcane spiritual themes in a way that, like the mummy herself (as well as most other characters in the film), transcends the Christian view of good and evil. Admittedly, as long as I can remember, I have always been repulsed by nearabout anything and everything that is regarded as Irish, at least in a modern day context, especially in respect to their cult of victim-hood (the Irish may be the only European diaspora whose history parallels that of nonwhites) and cultural influences in American (from country music to the western film genre), yet Almereyda’s The Eternal brings some much needed culture and class to the eternally unlucky northwestern Celts, as the film echoes the early works of Irish occult poet W. B. Yeats in terms of both potent possessing poetry and esoteric meanderings. On top of featuring the ethnic stereotype of the Irish as unrepentant alcoholics, The Eternal features the perennial cliché of the absent Irish father. Aside from American Jim-Beam-loving Jim and nutty Uncle Bill, not a single male elder (be it father or grandfather) is featured in the film. Unsurprisingly, most of the young male adults featured in The Eternal are (seemingly) symbolically killed off in fairly absurd scenarios by the wicked wench as if the the whole male gender of Ireland was eternally accursed due to one immortal woman's ancient failed love affair and subsequent seething scorn, henceforth lending evidence that the title of the film is an unintentionally humorous and saucy double-entendre of sorts. Incidentally, an middle-aged Irish-American women (whose entire family was Irish/Irish-American) once told me that Irish men were essentially ignoble drunkards (referring to her own father as such) as depicted in Alan Parker's Angela's Ashes (1999) and it was up to the mother to raise the children and continue the legacy of the family. The Eternal certainly portrays such a scenario of amaranthine generational family dysfunction where it is altogether up to the matriarch to lead the battle and shield her family's compromised future. Fundamentally, The Eternal is a fantastically demanding celluloid work where magical and mystical primeval Ireland-before-alcoholism-and-English-persecution meets the innately imbibed and culturally-comatose Ireland of today, except disguised as an ostensibly incoherent B-grade mummy horror movie.
I cannot think of a single mummy-related film that I have ever fancied to any notable degree, so I guess it is only natural that I would appreciate the intrinsically abstract and acroamatic anti-mummy film essence of The Eternal; a work that brings life to a seemingly postmortem horror subgenre. Leave it to Michael Almereyda to be the person to do it, but, of course, like most of his films, The Eternal is not for everyone, especially those individuals that found themselves especially enthralled by Stephen Sommers’ emotionally and aesthetically barren CGI-corpse The Mummy (1999) starring Brendan Fraser. Like most of Almereyda’s work, The Eternal demands at least more than one viewing, but works best with incessant re-visitings. Not unlike Nadja and Happy Here and Now (2002), The Eternal is an inordinately hip flick with a modern avant-garde soundtrack and intense inaugural imagery that is bound to satisfy most exploratory cinephiles to some noteworthy degree, yet leave most archetypical horror fans flustered and possibly homicidal. Admittedly, many of the actors and actresses featured in The Eternal are less than sexually alluring in appearance and character (unless you have a fetish for drunk girls falling down the stairs), as the film certainly does not feature the sort of kitschy pseudo-eroticism that the cover-art of the American dvd release misleadingly advertises, but then again, when I think of Ireland, I generally think of homely (and often short like a leprechaun) white ladies with hard-as-nails, contra dainty constitutions. Of course, the presence of delightfully dorky Brit Jared Harris does not help this predicament, but despite the film's lack of pulchritudinous lead actors, The Eternal is, in consummation, an elegant work in of itself that can only be understood by fully experiencing it, as a mere inactive superficial glance at the film will not suffice. One can only hope that Michael Almereyda will give the werewolf and Frankenstein that same thorough and idiosyncratic treatment that he has so vivaciously bequeathed upon Dracula and the mummy, but judging by the commercial and critical failure of The Eternal, it is quite implausible that we will see the emergence of such clamorous horror works. Regardless of where Almereyda's filmmaking career might lead, we still have The Eternal, the only film where a plastered American beta-male smashes a wine bottle over a equally drunk druid alpha-mummy-witch's head.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 1:22 AM
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