Donald Cammell only directed four films before his untimely death but they’re all surging with life and an uncompromising artistic sensibility. He was a tormented, difficult figure who could channel his inner chaos into films that take conventional story forms and distort them into something unusual and interesting. White Of The Eye was the next to last of his directorial ventures and, on paper, this murder mystery should have been the most commercial of the bunch. However, it plays out in as unconventional a style as his other work.
The plot seems pretty straightforward. Joan White (Cathy Moriarty) is a wife and mother who seems to living out a normal if somewhat bohemian existence in Arizona. However, her small town home is a rocked by a string of brutal murders of local women – and Tuscon cop Mendoza (Art Evans) begins to focus his investigation on Paul (David Keith), Joan’s loving husband. As the bodies pile up, Joan’s present and past collide in ways that reveal things she never knew about either.
However, the style in which White Of The Eye is told is classic Cammell. He revels in quirkiness, offsetting acting scenes that have a playful, improv edge with stylized visuals and crosscutting that give the plot an unearthly atmosphere. Horror fans will be dazzled by how he handles the murder setpieces, all of which are full of swooping steadicam shots by camera operator/co-cinematographer Larry McConkey and synth-drenched rock scoring from Nick Mason and Rick Fenn that would make Dario Argento swoon.
That said, the horror and mystery elements are just part of the eccentric stew here – and the overall feel of White Of The Eye is more akin to an abstract arthouse film crossed with an indie film exploration of a troubled romance.
Cammell’s offbeat approach works because he pays as much attention to the performances as he does the visuals. Moriarty presents an interesting mix of tough resourcefulness and emotional vulnerability to her role while Keith finds a variety of complex shadings beneath his initial “good ol’ boy” affect. Evans adds credible support as the darkly humorous detective and Alan Rosenberg is compelling as Joan’s gentle but damaged ex, who holds a key to the mystery.
There’s no point in saying much more about White Of The Eye as it is best to allow its unorthodox approach to mystery, horror and drama to cast a spell on its terms. The one thing left to say is a summation: this film is a challenging but worthwhile trip for the cult movie buff to take.