Apparently, revenge is a dish best served cold...and blind...and sometimes naked. This is one of many truisms to be gathered from director Raoul Ruiz's film that feels like a dressed up stage play with interesting performances from Tom Conti and Daryl Hannah. Its intimacy sets us up quite nicely for a tale of intrigue that only stumbles towards the end.
Due to the limited setting and tiny central cast, I can't say too much without spoiling some of the film's surprises. I'll try to skim along the top and not give anything away. Conti plays a famous art critic and author, named Paul, who lost his eyes in a terrible car accident a few years ago. When the desire strikes to write one last novel, an autobiography no less, he realizes that he's going to need a little help. He auditions a number of people to act as his eyes and hands before settling on Hannah's character, Jane. He appreciates her honesty and believes that he may have found the perfect collaborator to bring his masterpiece to life. Her motivations are less clear but that's sort of the point. You see, Jane is hiding something from Paul. By the time her secret comes to light, more than just Paul's manuscript will be in jeopardy.
It may not seem fair but I make snap judgments when I look at the covers for movies that I know nothing about. I'm happy to have my first impressions blasted to smithereens but I'm just telling you it happens (I can't be alone in this...right?). So it went with Blind Revenge. The utterly generic title spat out by a direct-to-video name generator, the weirdly photoshopped image that positions Daryl Hannah closer to Carrot Top's gene pool than she's probably comfortable with, the fact that Hannah and Conti are actually toplining this film...uh oh. I was expecting a mildly diverting thriller that adhered to all the B-movie clichés. Color me surprised because this turned out to be a fairly engaging thriller that employed odd and unexpected tactics to deepen its central mystery.
I'm a sucker for films like Sleuth, Death and the Maiden and Tape where a small group of characters (the fewer, the better) circle each other in a claustrophobic environment trading verbal (and sometimes not-so-verbal) jabs. The effect can be menacing, darkly humorous and often voyeuristic. Now, Blind Revenge isn't in the same league as the films I just mentioned but it gets a lot of the details right. Just take a look at the character of Paul. Gilbert Adair clearly had a lot of fun writing for him and Conti sinks his teeth in with great relish. Paul is a persnickety and patronizing grouch who approaches everyone and everything from a position of authority. Although his past sins aren't immediately apparent, we don't mind him getting knocked down a peg or two. Hannah's portrayal of Jane is, by necessity, more guarded but she also gets to chew the scenery a bit during the climax.
The other ace up Ruiz's sleeve is the atmosphere he cultivates. Almost the entire film is based in Paul's mansion that's filled to the brim with artwork, books and statues. By limiting our leads to the mansion, the outside world falls away. Pretty soon, we start paying attention to the subtle ways in which Jane defies Paul's authority and the implicit meaning of every barbed conversation. Granted, there are a few instances when Ruiz goes too far in trying to draw out tension from unlikely sources. A silly scene with Conti, his bubble bath and a naked Daryl Hannah comes to mind. On another occasion, Ruiz and Adair commit the cardinal sin of taking our leads outside the mansion. It's a brief scene but it proves that a surefire way to diffuse the tension of a closed room mystery is to open the door.
Ultimately, the only part of the film that doesn't really work is the climax. Since Jane's motives remain hidden for much of the film, any revelations by her would have seemingly come out of the blue. This is especially true of her reasoning in this case. There are a few breadcrumbs here and there to support what goes down but it still feels kind of arbitrary. At least, Ruiz and Adair deserve some credit for not throwing some gratuitous twists and turns (Omigosh he's not really blind! / They both died in the car crash and this is purgatory! / They're really two halves of the same person!) our way just to tie things up. In fact, that's the film's primary selling point. It's a minor thriller that won't necessarily blow your mind but at least it won't insult your intelligence.