There's only one reason to go see Eternal, a new Canadian-produced horror film, and it's not a particularly good one. But, anyone who's ever wondered what a late-night Cinemax movie would look like projected on a big screen now has a chance. An erotic thriller with a supernatural twist, Eternal has it all (at least, by the standards of its genre): A photogenic-yet-unrecognizable cast, a plot that dispenses moments of sex and violence at a predictable clip, anonymous urban locations, production design that emphasizes upscale consumer goods, and a lighting scheme and tone of transgressive sexuality imported wholesale from 9 1/2 Weeks. If only it allowed viewers to switch channels when they got bored.
The credits announce, "The following was inspired by true events," which isn't quite as silly as it first sounds. Writer/directors Wilhelm Liebenberg and Federico Sanchez take their inspiration from the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, a real-life Hungarian countess who, according to the worst accounts, bloodied up the turn of the 17th century by killing as many as 2,000 young women who may have been used to supply her with a literal bloodbath. Eternal caps the death toll at 650, but credits bathing in blood with keeping Bathory young, allowing her to show up in Montreal (where else?) in the form of Caroline Néron. That's an attractive enough form to draw Sarah Manninen to Néron's sprawling estate for a night of Internet-orchestrated lovemaking, which Néron cuts short by piercing Manninen's jugular. This draws the attention of Manninen's cop husband (kickboxer-turned-actor Conrad Pla), and soon he and Néron are involved in a glossy, blood-drenched cat-and-mouse game that takes them from moodily lit, luxuriously furnished Canada to the decadent corridors of a Venetian castle.
Vampire-like murderesses apparently, have demanding tastes. If the movie shared that taste, it might be on to something. But instead, it works through a laundry list of sexual situations, mandatory plot development, and violent deaths. There's nothing wrong with formulas when they work, but Eternal is neither scary nor particularly sexy, especially once it's established that all the pretty things Néron takes a fancy to are going to end up with sharp objects in their necks before the film has time to get to the good stuff. Which raises a bigger question: Why, ever since Fatal Attraction, at least, has the erotic thriller taken over the dumb comedy as the primary source for Trojan-horsed soft porn? Why did femmes fatales and death wishes become more popular than bikini babes and beer kegs? And what does it mean? That's something to think about while watching Eternal. Or, better yet, while not watching it.