At first, “Eternal” seems atypical of run-of-the-mill horror flicks. First, it takes on a legend of 400 years ago, Countess Erszebet Bathory of Hungary, who killed 650 women in order to soak in their blood, believing it to be the kind of bath liquid that threw out the aging process. Her murderously sadistic ways carry over into Elizabeth Kane (Caroline Néron) who believes what the Countess believed, but all throughout time spent in Montreal and Venice, the question remains as to whether she is indeed the Countess, in a different body, in a different time, either supernaturally or through a close bloodline.
Detective Raymond Pope (Conrad Pla) gets involved when his wife goes missing. His wife actually begins the movie as she drives up to a foreboding mansion with a snarling Rottweiler right at the gate when it opens. An omen of things to come and also a cliché of sorts (isn’t it enough just to get up to the house without the damn dog?), but good golden cinematography by Jamie Thompson makes this more pleasant. The gold tones of the mansion, as well as fine helicopter shots of the city below, sporadically placed throughout, give “Eternal” the feeling of wanting to get down to business and see what’s going on in this elegantly-designed mansion. This is not about what lurks behind a door, but what lurks in the soul and it’s made that way for the first half.
Having cheated on his wife in the past, Pope shouldn’t be all that surprised that his wife went to Elizabeth for a different experience. Maybe his wife knew, or maybe she just wanted to try this, having enjoyed the experience once before. “Eternal” is good not to question the morality of what Raymond’s doing. It just hangs back, observing what’s going on. Pope is an alright cop; you can’t tell much based on him getting fully into this case after his wife’s disappearance. Conrad Pla keeps Raymond on a path that doesn’t require him to emote too much. He wants answers and doesn’t want to pussyfoot around. Playing opposite Caroline Néron, though, he’s just one of the paper characters that can blow here and there and everywhere, but not be the full center of the picture when needed. In fact, everything revolves around Elizabeth without being entirely effective.
Pope has a son and a slight friendship with the kid’s babysitter, Lisa (Liane Balaban) a computer nerd who helps him when needed, but doesn’t do much beyond that except be unnecessarily surprised when her roommate suggests that she shouldn’t hide her torch for him. Writer/directors Wilhelm Lebenberg and Federico Sanchez go too far in introducing this kid, as if it needs to be known that this man has a son so he isn’t unlikable. It doesn’t feel like the true convictions of these filmmakers, but a need to at least market this side of the film so people will feel comfortable with this main character, for fear of audiences leaving if they don’t take to Raymond right away. We can hate a character or be ambivalent about him. The human mind has many capabilities which don’t always force us to think in black-and-white terms. It’s cheap to put in this kid just to make Raymond seem softer, more caring toward the world. It’s even worse when his son contributes to the lapses of logic in the second half, brought on in order to rush back to the main attraction, everything else be damned.
Raymond also has other troubles. When his partner’s wife is killed, he’s suspected (even though he wasn’t even near her when it happened), and his partner faces him, gun cocked and ready. The strangest aspect of “Eternal” is how in the heck Elizabeth manages to frame Raymond for these various murders and it becomes even more disturbing later on he’s framed again, though the method is not known and for the sake of many minds, is thankfully not revealed. The case becomes hot and heavy and so does the eroticism, as Elizabeth searches for more victims (through her apprentice, Irina, far sexier than Elizabeth), and Lisa is tapped next, the victim not only of another murder, but of Irina’s desire to seek out her own blood, angry that Elizabeth won’t allow her to bathe in blood just yet, claiming that the victims need to be willing to do whatever they’re put up to do, the blood being pure in that way. Liane Balaban makes her big contribution by participating in subverting the old “fridge door” cliché in which a refrigerator door is open for a time, the character rooting through the fridge’s contents, and then the killer is right there when the door closes. At least both directors were smart enough to realize what has been constantly done before.
But even with that, the helicopter shots of Montreal, and the atmospheric cinematography and set designs, it can’t help the clichés, coincidences and too-easy situations which dominate the second half in which all is abandoned just for the sake of getting back to Elizabeth. It’s as if Liebenberg and Sanchez realize that the only attraction in the movie is Elizabeth and she has to re-appear in order to keep the movie afloat. It sinks. What’s not realized is that while there can be one character who makes the movie memorable, there has to be other characters and plot points to keep things interesting enough that you feel mentally full and sated by the time the film returns to that character. Being that detective Pope retains the same emotional shape throughout the movie, no matter what the circumstance (and even when he looks tough, it’s the standard toughness of movie cops), and Irina becomes a cardboard cut-out after her spat with Elizabeth, this whole production might as well just be a music video featuring everything Elizabeth from lusting for blood to bathing in it and the process involved. When Raymond winds up in Italy in pursuit of Elizabeth, his son is conveniently forgotten and so is a potentially better movie. Being that Dad hasn’t seen him in days and is now in Europe, and Lisa is dead, what’s going to happen now? He seemed comfortable in middle-class suburbia and to watch it disappear from under him feels more gripping, lesbian vampirism or no lesbian vampirism.