Sunday 24 March 2013

Eel Girl (2008)

Director: Paul Campion
Stars: Julia Rose, Euan Dempsey, Nick Blake and Robyn Paterson

While there's some Night of the Hell Hamsters in The Devil's Rock, it's mostly the technique that allows Campion to turn a little into a lot. It's a feature distilled down to its essence and played out over a quarter of an hour, with only two characters visible on screen. The skills Campion showed there, especially on the writing front, were put to good use in his debut feature. Eel Girl provides the rest of the skills that he needed, as well as some of the themes that he would later spin into an occult Nazi framework. Most of the praise deserved here could be copied and pasted from my review of The Devil's Rock. What it's missing is the background and the story, playing out instead like an extended scene from a feature that doesn't exist. That's not to say that the beginning and the end don't work, it's more to say that it could be inserted partway into an extended story with no changes required. There aren't even any opening credits to suggest a beginning.

While Night of the Hell Hamsters only used two actors, Eel Girl uses and discards two as it begins, as a crisp military type collects a scientist to meet their commanding officer in a briefing room. The details don't matter, only that Protocol 482 is ignored, leaving an obsessive junior scientist on his own with the title character only a few important doors away. There don't appear to be occult shenanigans in play here, though we're given little background to build onto, but a military force has unleashed on itself something very similar to what Col Meyer unleashed on his Nazi troops in The Devil's Rock: a naked, female, non-human creature who looks frickin' awesome but who has an agenda of her own and absolutely cannot be trusted. The sets are superbly realised, costumes no less and even the technology is believable, unlike almost every other movie ever made. The colour palette is especially notable: alien white on superbly lit and textured green and black.
Most obviously there are the make up effects. This five minute short was shot at Weta Workshop, after all, with make up by Weta Digital. Julia Rose is magnetic as the title character, even though she never speaks. She looks roughly as you might expect: naked, with pale, possibly luminescent skin, gills in her cheeks, sharp pointed teeth and webbing between her fingers. She's memorable not only as a Weta make up job but for the way Rose carries her. She commands attention, which is what she gets from the obsessed scientist on the other side of the protective glass. What goes down from there isn't entirely surprising, especially to those who have seen The Devil's Rock, as the signature move is not far removed from one which the demon bitch uses in that film. Without the context of the later feature, this would play much more Lovecraftian, as Eel Girl feels a lot like a solid realisation of a denizen of Innsmouth, where men consorted with the Deep Ones.

The technical quality here on every front and the effortless dominance of Julie Rose as the Eel Girl scream out for a more substantial story, but one is not forthcoming. We're given no background to ground the story, just a hint at military experimentation that doesn't go far enough to determine whether this creature was created or found. She could be from Innsmouth or a sinister relative of Abe Sapien, but she could equally have been the product of unsanctioned genetic engineering. It really doesn't matter, as Campion was obviously concerned less about story here and more about tone and texture, in which aspects Eel Girl shines, figuratively if not literally. Rarely does a short film look this good, but of course rarely does a short film get shot at Weta Workshop. We viewers can't help but want a story to surround this weird creature and her bath of black ichor but we're left resoundingly wanting. If Campion had a story, it presumably morphed into The Devil's Rock.

Eel Girl can be viewed for free at Vimeo.

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