Bullhead and Two Eyes Staring have nothing in common except their country of origin. They’re both from Belgium, two of the three films from that country playing Fantastic Fest this year, in fact. Two Eyes Staring was optioned by Charlize Theron last year for an American remake and is about a woman who inherits her childhood house after her estranged mother passes away. There, her young daughter begins to have visions that illuminate mommy’s seedy past. That’s a very female-centric film and Bullhead is the opposite. Winner of Best Picture in the AMD & Dell Next Wave Spotlight Competition and the Belgian contender for the 2012 Academy Awards, Bullhead is about a muscle-bound, hormone-peddling gangster who himself has a huge childhood secret that has affected everything he’s done since.

One is realistic and the other ethereal; one has compelling points but both have major flaws.

Bullhead is two and a half really good movies that should blend together well but end up feeling disjointed. Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a steroid-taking, muscle-bound gangster who has inherited his father’s farm where they raise cows for slaughter with illegal hormones. When a police officer who investigates that kind of thing is murdered, Jacky decides to cool the business down to the dismay of his associates. As that’s going on, we learn about Jacky himself and his embarrassing secret that explains his own obsession with steroids and masculinity. These two stories, along with a budding love story, all unfold simultaneously, giving the film a disjointed character study feel. Jacky himself is a fascinating character and the more we learn about him, the more we’re interested, but as the family business and this odd murder mystery also unravel, it just doesn’t quite fit. For the whole movie, I just felt like the film should have been about one thing or the other. Maybe that discomfort is what first time writer/director Michael Roskam had in mind, but it put a huge dent in an otherwise impressive piece of work.

/Film rating: 5 out of 10

As I was typing these thoughts on Two Eyes Staring, I subconsciously kept writing “Two Eyes Closing” instead. That’s obviously not the title but it also kind of describes general sentiment toward the picture. As I said above, Two Eyes STARING focuses on a family whose young mother inherits her childhood house after her estranged mother passes away. The husband makes the decision for them to move into the massive house and, once that happens, their daughter begins to see a young girl ghost. The identity of this ghost holds the key to a disturbing family secret but as we learn more and more about it, director Elbert Van Strien starts to get sneaky and it never quite makes sense. That, compounded with a distinct lack of action throughout the movie, makes it a trial to get though. There’s a good story in there, and some potentially great characters, but this version of the film is a disappointment.

/Film rating 4 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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