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By Amy R. Handler | October 25, 2009

Another Eternal Recurrence

Ed Hinsley rapes young lovelies and stabs them to death with a screwdriver. He covers their rigid bodies with industrial size trash bags, drags them into the back woods and buries them in shallow graves.

Have we fallen into a time warp – “Psycho” (1960) meets “The Entity” (1981) meets “Mulholland Drive” (2001)?

Hardly. Filmmaker, Michael Halper offers a completely new take on this old, horrific tale, a poetic philosophy so airtight and suspenseful even the gushing blood looks artistic. Furthermore, this 22-minute short moves so quickly and hypnotically that we find ourselves gasping for air, demanding more. Does this mean we like Ed Hinsley, this mutely insane psychopath without any semblance of conscience? Of course we don’t. He’s not even alive. He’s a figment of our imagination. At least that’s what we’re told to believe. We see Hinsley’s victim-before-last grab the screwdriver and plunge it multiple times into his carotid artery and elsewhere. No one can live through all that, right? Well, maybe…

In the following passages from Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science (1882) and Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1885), he speaks about Eternal Recurrence. He asks, “What if one day or night, a daemon were to slide up after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you, ‘This life as you now live and have lived it, you will have to live again and innumerable times over,’ and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every pleasure and all the unspeakably small and large things in your life must come back to you and all in the same order and sequence….The eternal hourglass of existence will be turned over and over again – and you will it, you tiny speck of dust.”

He reiterates, and the anathema clarifies. ”Now I die and vanish – the soul is as immortal as the body but the knot of causes in which I’m entangled recurs and will create me again.”

Hinsley echoes this Nietzschean horror announcing his own life sentence in a journal. “Tonight was a good night. I was unstoppable. She was beautiful just like the rest. She made me feel alive. I ended her. She is no more.” We almost feel sorry for his plight, this zombie-captive in a timeless Hell of his own making. “I’ve been completely swept along with my own compulsion…but it doesn’t satisfy me completely.” He describes killing another woman, then another, spiraling “out of control” and tonight, the “grand finale (so he thinks) of a life poorly spent.” “The end result (being) just overwhelming depression, a sick pathetic miserable life-story. That’s all it is.”

Hinsley’s journal is discovered by Jen and Rachel in the tiny, hidden wall-compartment of his old kitchen. He is reputed to die in his apartment. Rachel, a beautiful young woman, is the new tenant. Curious Jen, helping Rachel settle in, spies the secret compartment and initiates a fatal investigation.

Immediately before Jen leaves for her date with new beau, Lance, she jokingly comments that she hopes prior-tenant Hinsley doesn’t return. Rachel’s response, “He’s dead,” lingers disturbingly. Alone, she throws the journal in a box of trash.

Inspired by Hitchcock, Halper ties his story together with ambiguous knots. The killer’s red and black screwdriver is initially shown when we witness earlier slaughters. It recurs shortly thereafter when a previous victim grabs the instrument and stabs Hinsley, supposedly to death. The screwdriver re-appears when Rachel uses it to tighten a kitchen cabinet knob.

Jen’s boyfriend Lance, a synonym for a sharp, knife-like weapon, looks very much like Hinsley, with his scruffy beard growing in. His strangely soft voice seems not of the present. He knows too many intricate details about Ed Hinsley. Jen remarks that these are exactly what Hinsley writes in his journal.

Coming in and out of existence, someone watches Rachel in a pastiche of “Psycho’s” shower scene. The only criticism we can make about this very strong film is that much of the banter between Jen and Rachel feels long and contrived, especially when corresponding silent scenes are so powerful and telling.

In the end it is we who feel violated – not by a killer, but by the filmmaker who cheats us of more film-time. Hopefully, “The Last Tenant” feature will arrive soon at a theater nearby.

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