Eavesdropper is a political/medical thriller from first-time writer/director Andrew Bakalar. The premise for the story surrounds some ongoing research funded by the U.S. Government regarding aural reconstruction. Not only is work being done to help patients with hearing loss restore their sense of sound, but also with enhancements that help the patient pick up broader electro-acoustic waves transmitted from brain activity. In short, they’re trying to condition people to not just read minds, but literally hear them.
Liza (played by Lucy Jenner) has recently become deaf, the result of a mugging gone awry, when the robber shot her husband at point blank range–but doing so while holding her captive and with the firearm going off directly next to her ears. She is befriended by Grant (John J. York), a case-worker at a halfway house where she is recovering. Through her doctor, she is referred to a hearing institute (the researchers in charge are played by Star Trek‘s John De Lancie and George Takei) that is testing out an experimental procedure to restore hearing. Unbeknownst to Liza, the study has so far resulted in disastrous side effects for all the other patients, as well as lab animals. She agrees to go through with the treatment, and soon wakes up from the operation with her hearing restored.
Not only can she once again hear the natural world around her, but she finds she can also pick up the internal dialogue of people close by which is being transmitted as brain waves. After some digging around, she soon discovers that she is the sole survivor of this treatment, which ultimately causes other patients to go crazy and commit suicide. For whatever reason, she alone has been able to control this anomaly. As the doomed research is forced underground, to now be funded by the government for their own purposes, she is offered a position to use this ability to help assist in select cases. She reluctantly accepts the new job.
As you can well imagine with any movie involving a government cover up, things quickly become… well, more complicated.
Eavesdropper is somewhat of a straight-to-video release, although it has had some showing recently on television, on the Lifetime channel, under its original title of Patient 14. The cast includes mostly B- and C-list actors, as well as a few newcomers, and generally succeeds in rising above the obvious limitations of its budget. Two of the leads, most notably Lucy Jenner and John De Lancie, give sufficiently strong performances, as do a couple of lesser known actors in supporting roles. The rest of the cast tend to hover in the “daytime soap opera” level of quality, but none to the point of distraction (although the lead actor, Costas Mandylor, certainly tries his best).
The DVD release is presented in widescreen with a 5.1 audio track. The quality of the transfer doesn’t blow you away, but doesn’t distract either. Extras include a “theatrical” trailer, a nicely informative behind-the-scenes featurette, as well as one of the most verbose director’s commentaries I’ve heard in quite a while. Andrew has a lot he wants to say, I’ll give him that.
It’s becoming more and more fashionable these days for grassroots media ventures to include two parts for public scrutiny: (1) the actual product, and (2) the gimmick used to make you more interested in the actual product. With video games there have been viral marketing campaigns, using everything from sites with bees or chickens, to planting stooges on message boards seeding “inside secrets” on upcoming products. With movies, the rules changed a bit when Blair Witch Project fooled enough people for long enough with carefully placed “is it real?” information to generate buzz and rake in a killing at the box office. Even if the movie hasn’t withstood the test of time in other areas, it did prove one thing remarkably well: you don’t need fancy special effects to hype up an audience. Or, at least you don’t if you can offer them something else in return. Namely, a unique experience.
There have been a small parade of titles to follow along in the footsteps of this logic. Generally, they have been less than solid attempts trying to support a less than solid product. Plus, they’re forgetting one critically important detail: that kind of trick really only works once. It would seem that Eavesdropper is the latest to give this guerrilla method of marketing a shot. If you visit the website for the movie, you will find that not only is the film “based on shocking true events,” but the extra bit of information that supposedly the writer/director has been abducted and missing for the past year, and there is a link to another site, the Find Andrew Foundation, with slightly more information regarding this event.
The whole thing smells of conspiracy, as they attempt to tie his disappearance to the research presented in his film. The insinuation is that this is all data that the government doesn’t want you to know about, and apparently Andrew dug a little too deep… Is Andrew actually missing? I honestly don’t know, I’m not a private investigator.
What I do know is that there is not much on the foundation’s site other than gratuitous offers to find out more about his film, and zero information regarding this actual abduction, save for a poorly done video of “documented footage of his arrest” (which, seriously, looks like Andrew bribed his buddies with a pan of pizza rolls if they’d come over one Saturday afternoon and help him put together some “evidence”). Add to all of this the continuous rhetoric on the director’s commentary track about how he was given access to all this classified information, and he couldn’t reveal his sources, and all the bizarre things that happened during the making of this movie, and etc… Do I sound a little suspicious and jaded? It’s because I am.
My review of the gimmick/conspiracy portion of the product is… well, not very good. I’d give it a C-. Since I could find no public record of his disappearance (no local papers care that a director has been missing for a year?) except for a site that, oh yeah, is also trying to sell a movie… And I have quite a few doubts that government officials would be doling out a lot of classified information to a first-time filmmaker. On the other hand, I do appreciate the indie spirit and trying to separate your offering from the rest of the herd. So I’ll meet him in the middle and just call it “unfortunate” but not “horrible.”
And the film itself? For what it is, I don’t think the film is all that bad. It definitely struggles in some areas, but the idea is intriguing and provides some food for thought. Keeping in mind that most indie films are developed on a shoestring budget and must be completed in an amazingly short amount of time, it’s certainly commendable. Yes, it has that “Lifetime movie” look and feel to it, but the occasional strong performance give it enough reality to hang its hat on that you can sufficiently get lost in a Saturday afternoon matinee. Overall, it’s a good enough renter.