After premiering at Austin Film Festival last October, One Eyed Girl made its New York premiere as an out-of-competition special screening at the First Time Fest. As the first feature film directed at by Australian director Nick Matthews, One Eyed Girl is an extremely well-crafted, promising debut feature.
Travis (Mark Leonard Winter) is a deeply troubled young psychiatrist haunted by the role he played in the suicide of his patient, Rachel (Katy Cheel). He is no longer capable of counseling his patients and he has become addicted to painkillers. While in this vulnerable place, he is handed a pamphlet by a teenage girl named Grace (Sara West) about a spiritual meeting. Though skeptical, he attends the meeting and discovers it is led by the charismatic Father Jay (Steve Le Marquand), who speaks about purifying his followers at a remote retreat known only as “the farm.” At the moment of his greatest weakness, he reaches out to the cult and they take him to the farm. As he detoxifies, he begins to follow Father Jay’s methods, most of which have underpinnings of violence. As Travis becomes deeper involved with the cult, he discovers troubling things about Father Jay and his followers. At the same time, the true nature of Travis’ relationship to Rachel reveals that his pain is deeply rooted and cleansing his guilt might be impossible.
One Eyed Girl is a tension-filled and cerebral film. Director/co-writer Nick Matthews unravels the story over the 102 minutes in a way that grabs the viewer’s attention and refuses to let go. There are few lulls in the film, and it’s difficult to take your eyes off the screen. As Father Jay, Le Marquand coolly manipulates his followers, in particular Grace and a nervous, troubled young man named Marcus (Matt Crook). It’s easy to see why Travis is first skeptical, but later comes around and becomes an ardent follower of his teachings. Because so many of Father Jay’s teachings deal with violence, there is an undercurrent of abuse that runs through the film. It’s easy to feel sympathy for Travis, but it’s also easy to see why he’s not completely deserving of that sympathy. In fact, all the characters in the movie exist in shades of grey.
Viewers might find themselves also questioning Father Jay’s methods, since on the surface they appear to be helping people filled with great pain. Of course, it’s a case of the cure being just as bad as the disease. We don’t get much of an origin for Father Jay regarding how his cult started except for some vague remarks he makes about his military service, but it isn’t clear who he is exactly. Grace is another character who seems somewhat undeveloped — she is devoted to Father Jay’s teaching, but how she ended up there and why she believes in him so strongly is unanswered.
Matthews has a background as a cinematographer, and between him and cinematographer Jody Muston One Eyed Girl has a lush, vivid palette of color which contrasts the greys of Travis’ city life and the greens and browns of the farm. It adds dimension to a film that already has multiple layers in its plot.
Movies about charismatic cult leaders and the followers they prey upon are certainly not for everyone. But One Eyed Girl is an effective drama that will likely please anyone looking for a cerebral experience.