That Cold Dead Look in Your Eyes is a non-linear black-and-white thriller about a terrible chef, set in a version of New York where conversations are primarily conducted in French. Leonard (Franck Raharinosy), the chef, is struggling to keep his job and make the payments on his motorcycle. His girlfriend, Marie (Nora Arnezeder), seems delighted with him one minute and announces she’s leaving him the next after an argument about her father visiting. Leonard then arrives at work with an unexplained stab wound that oozes blood uncontrollably.
As if his life wasn’t chaotic enough, Marie’s famous art photographer father, Dennis (Alan Ceppos), does arrive, even though she’s gone. Soon the apartment is filled with nude men that Dennis is either photographing or having sex with. As Leonard’s life spirals ever downward, he’s assured by some ladies he goes to for help that all of his problems are really hallucinations. They say the visions are caused by a new super-fast wireless internet signal that uses “theta waves,” which have been installed all around the city. When the hallucinations come, people suddenly have milky white eyes and seizures or attack like Zombies.
Leonard’s lack of control seems to derive partly from his passivity. He takes no action to try to mend things with Marie. He sleeps wherever a sofa is offered. He endures Dennis’s debauched photo parties, at which his only function is to unclog the toilet. Regarding the facilities, he is told this will be an ongoing problem due to Dennis’ excretory functions being as prolific as his art output. Dennis is vocal about and proud of both of these quantities. He’s also adamant that his hands must be used to create art and not for solving plumbing problems.
“When the hallucinations come, people suddenly have milky white eyes and seizures or attack like Zombies.”
Leaving aside the intentionally confused jumble of a story, in one respect, That Cold Dead Look in Your Eyes shines: it is beautifully shot by Eric LaPlante. The “theta waves” conceit is clearly a reference to the ubiquitous marketing of cellular services, with competition centered on who has the fastest network, whether 4G, 5G, or whatever the latest buzzword is. Writer-director Onur Turkel also takes an unsubtle dig at the Covid era fringe anti-vaccine conspiracies around using cellular signals to perform nefarious mind-control functions in conjunction with the inoculations.
Interspersed with Leonard’s horrific visions of the world devolving into an apocalyptic hell are scenes from a happier time (possibly). Or are his hallucinations intermittent? Is Leonard wildly oscillating across parallel universes? While that conjecture has the appeal of providing something like narrative continuity, the viewer is not informed one way or the other. We see Leonard in better times, periodically, whether it’s past, future, or other. Trying to make sense of the film is nearly as futile as the life Leonard is leading.
In That Cold Dead Look in Your Eyes, Turkel has taken a fairly pedestrian New York story about a man who has lost control of his situation and transformed it into a French avant-garde objet d’art. This is an impressive accomplishment, to be sure, and the French zombies of New York are incredibly unsettling, as they are meant to be. This work has an impressionistic sense… each viewer will take from it what they bring to it, and that will be different for everyone. For me, the emotional vibe is the exploration of the horrors of modern complexity and the struggle to enjoy life while being compelled to work for a living. We are all sharing some form of this ennui. Except for Dennis, that is, he is doing fine.
"…an impressive accomplishment, to be sure..."