'One Eyed Girl': Austin Review

Courtesy of Projector Films
This engrossing, darkly tinged drama is an auspicious debut

This Australian psychological thriller concerns a troubled young psychiatrist who falls under the sway of a cult

Australian filmmaker Nick Matthews' feature directorial debut recently won the jury prize in the Dark Matters Section of the Austin Film Festival, and it's an appropriate award for this disturbing psychological thriller. Concerning a deeply troubled young psychiatrist who attempts to find spiritual redemption with the help of a close-knit cult, One Eyed Girl explores the dark matters of the soul with an engrossing intensity.

Mark Leonard Winter plays the lead role of Travis, who from the film's beginning is clearly on the verge of a breakdown. Distraught over the recent death of Rachel (Kate Cheel), a patient with whom he had more than a standard therapeutic relationship, he's self-medicating to the point of immobility and finds himself unable to cope with his demanding workload.

Spotting a beautiful young woman, Grace (an arresting Tilda Cobham-Hervey), handing out brochures on a subway train, he becomes intrigued and attends the support group she's touting led by the charismatic Father Jay (Steve Le Marquand). Shortly thereafter Travis tries to commit suicide by popping pills and, after placing a desperate phone call, is rescued by Father Jay and his right-hand man, Tom (Craig Behenna, who also co-scripted).

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They bring Travis to their isolated rural compound outside Adelaide, where he slowly begins to recover his emotional equilibrium via, among other methods, violently hitting a punching bag with a bat. But when he spots the cult leader forcing himself on one of his followers, the innocent Marcus (Matt Crook), it sparks a confrontation that eventually leads to a violent denouement.

Although the film's pacing lags at times, director/co-screenwriter Matthews displays a sure and subtle hand at conveying his central character's spiritual anguish and the seductive qualities of the group to which he desperately turns for help. Carefully parceling out Travis' backstory via a series of flashbacks, the narrative unfolds in powerful fashion, with only the ironic and overly melodramatic ending striking a false note.

The performances are first-rate; beside the talented young Cobham-Hervey, Winter conveys Travis' emotional desolation with a commanding intensity and Le Marquand makes Father Jay's hold over his followers all too convincing. The supporting players deliver equally authentic turns.

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Despite the obvious low budget, the film looks terrific, with Jody Muston's darkly atmospheric lensing contributing to the sense of foreboding. Although perhaps too relentless in its grimness to achieve any kind of commercial traction, One Eyed Girl features plenty of up-and-coming talent deserving of future watching.

Production: Projector Films
Cast: Mark Leonard Winter, Kate Cheel, Steve Le Marquand, Craig Behenna, Tilda Cobham-Hervey
Director: Nick Matthews
Screenwriters: Craig Behenna, Nick Matthews
Producer: David Ngo
Director of photography: Jody Muston
Production designer: Anny Duff
Editor: David Ngo
Costume designer: Tom Morris
Composer: Michael Darren

No rating, 101 minutes