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MOVIES: Sightless - Review

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The Riverdale cast have been cropping up in films outside of The CW with somewhat mixed results of late. Camila Mendes’ Dangerous Lies was largely a forgettable mess. Coyote Lake was an improvement, but not by much. And then there’s KJ Apa, who showed up in the tasteless Michael Bay-produced COVID-19 horror film Songbird. Thankfully, to prevent a negative run and to show there is hope – Lili Reinhart’s turn in Hustlers was a delight. Now it’s Madelaine Petsch’s turn to step outside the confines of the network, starring in writer-director Cooper Karl’s Sightless - that acts as a debut for the filmmaker that arrived on Netflix earlier this week. Sightless gives us a thriller told entirely from the viewpoint of the protagonist Ellen, a former Violinist prodigy, who has just lost her sight in a vicious attack that has had devastating repercussions, and now lives in a privately secluded home cut off from the outside world at great cost to her mental health.

Borrowing cues from Mike Flanagan’s terrific Hush, with director Cooper Karl citing films like Misery and Rear Window as inspirations, Sightless is efficiently paced and meticulous in its details that it discloses to the audience at just under ninety minutes long. From the get go we’re told everything we need to know in a precise and effective way that spares no expense – with the film utilising paranoia and vivid imagery often reliant on jump scares to create a mood that is designed to shock and thrill, creating cheap scares that come and go within seconds – you know exactly what’s going to happen when the music starts to kick in and it kicks in quite often, often overbearingly so with a view to disorientate. It’s the kind of horror film that if it was released in theatres, you’d probably go and watch late at night and it would be gone after a week, having forgotten most of it on the journey home. But it is no normal year, and depending on where you are in the world, cinemas are shut, leaving limited options in terms of new content.

There’s some degree of familiarity in knowing exactly what to expect from a movie like this and Sightless delivers exactly what you’d want from a straight-to-Netflix B-movie almost to a fault. Easily the high point of the film is the commited performance from Madelaine Petsch herself, who is completely convincing in capturing the paranoia and vulnerability of her character as she finds herself under threat. The film has clear rules for itself: nothing happens on screen that Ellen doesn’t hear or imagine, and its singular viewpoint plays to its advantage and uses its unreliable narrator against the audience. Operating under a budget and in a confined location allowing for some clever VFX trickery (in two such examples, Ellen imagines a bird to be a certain colour, it changes to be that certain colour, and in another, a character only shows scars when Ellen finds out that they have them) that larger-budget films would sometimes fail to take chances on or overlook, Sightless tries with the material available to it even if it unfortunately cannot create much of a lasting impression despite its commitment to its rules and understanding of the plight that characters face.

Unfortunately, what lets it down is its sense of blandness and lack of a distinct personality, with Sightless feeling largely inseparable from the billion other B-movie horror films that you’ve seen over the past few years, not helped by unconvincing dialogue that fails to excite or please. It feels awkward and stiff, with every plot beat telegraphed long before you’re meant to know what happens leaving you ahead of the protagonist and wondering when she’s going to piece things together. Much of the film’s success relies on patience from an audience and requires them to stick with them until the end – with plenty of time required to spend investing in a set-up for a payoff that might not always meet expectations. Furthermore, the resolution and answers when we do get them, not to go into to much spoilers here, feel incredeibly cheap, providing a motivation for the antagonist that never feels convincing. Ultimately it joins an underwhelming start to Netflix’s new 2021 slate of content.

Sightless is currently streaming on Netflix.

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