Some may look at Two Eyes Staring (or Zwart Water as it’s known in its native Holland) and see just another “ghost-girl” horror. And to an extent that’s true, as it has all the typical features of that sort of horror: family moves into scary, possibly haunted house that’s they’ve inherited and before long odd things start to occur. Cue intermittent jump scares and intricate plot. However, even if the overall plot isn’t exactly original, that doesn’t stop it from being a solid entry into the genre. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say.
One of the key reasons Two Eyes Staring works is the creepy atmosphere director Elbert van Strien is able to create and maintain throughout pretty much the whole 112-minute runtime. Even in scenes that don’t feature your usual jump-scare horror moments (although they’re still to be found here, the tension is often nail-biting.
Part of the reason the film is so effectively atmospheric is because of the musical score by Han Otten and Maurits Overdulve. Admittedly the music is overbearing in some scenes, but for the most part it’s subtle and effecting.
Like any good horror movie, Two Eyes Staring takes its time getting into the thick of thing. This allows us plenty of time to get to know the characters and thus care about them if anything were to happen to them. This is also helped by the performances of the three main cast members, Hadewych Minis (the mother), Barry Atsma (the father) and Isabelle Stokkel (the daughter). The latter is particularly impressive, especially considering that not only is she just 9 or 10 years old but this is also her first ever film role. If her performance here is anything to go by she’ll have a real career ahead of her.
Inevitably the film isn’t perfect and the problems are too significant to ignore completely. Firstly, the film is too long which is partly down to the fact that a number of scenes are either drawn out for longer than they should go on for (sometimes this results in effective tension but not always) or are entirely unnecessary.
Examples of the latter come in the side stories of each of the parents’ jobs. The mother finds work as a fashion designer and there were a few too many scenes focusing on that. The same goes for the father who works at some sort of power plant.
Secondly, the ending of the film – although admirable because it plays around with audience expectation of a movie twist – is mishandled, rushed and just plain confusing. It felt as though the twist was just thrown in there for the sake of having one and it didn’t really feel like a logical part of the rest of the movie that had preceded it.
Not dissimilar to films like the Spanish thriller The Orphanage and the underrated Orphan, Two Eyes Staring is an effective and emotionally impacting horror film that may not be wholly original but does what it does rather well. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but a solid attempt at a well-trodden sub-genre of horror.