The Sight – A forgotten Paul W.S. Anderson film

The Sight (1)The Sight was made in the year 2000 with the collaboration of Fox Entertainment and the British Sky network. It’s a TV movie directed by none other than Paul W.S. Anderson, the director of such films as Pompeii, The Three Musketeers (2011), Event Horizon as well as the video-game movies Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil. The Sight was made during a notably low-point in Anderson’s film career. In 1998, he had directed the sci-fi action drama film Soldier starring Kurt Russel. Though a brilliantly moving film, it was horridly mismarketed as a balls-to-the-walls action-affair by Warner Bros. and this ended up costing Anderson in a big way. Not only were contemporary reviews unflattering the movie failed to make a decent profit or to even break even. It was Anderson’s second box-office disappointment after his sci-fi horror film Event Horizon.

After this, Anderson’s rep cooled considerably in Hollywood and he took a year-long hiatus from directing. The Sight was his return to filming and I’m delighted to say that his style and form are still true even on the small screen.

The Sight (4)The Sight is about an American architect called Michael who comes to London to renovate an old hotel. At the same time, a serial killer is running loose and Michael is himself having bizarre visions of a little girl, whom he sees running in the hallways of the hotel. Eventually, while looking at photographs, he accidentally runs down an old woman with his car. The old woman somehow knows his name which disturbs him greatly. Later, Michael experiences strange events, is called to a burnt lawyer’s office and finally encounters the spirit of the woman he ran over. She reveals that Michael has The Sight, an ability to see and talk to the spirits of the recently deceased in order to help them find eternal peace. With the help of the spirits, primarily a little girl called Alice whom Michael sees in his visions and Isobel, he begins to piece together the murderer’s habits and patterns.

The film is a particular joy to the eye, even if Anderson has been forced to work with a lot less than he normally does. Locations are used brilliantly and the first act of the film has a quite foreboding atmosphere. Anderson’s vast shots and dramatic lighting bring the movie alive brilliantly. After the spirits truly step in, the movie turns from a sort of horror/thriller into more of a supernatural detective story but the shift is also handled well and serves the movie very well. The fact that the aesthetic is a bit more reminiscent of his first feature film Shopping (1994) rather adds than detracts from the experience (there’s also some visual cues very similar to the eventual follow-up, Resident Evil).

The Sight (5)Credit is also given where credit is due, as this movie surprisingly features some of Anderson’s best writing, impressively as this was the first time he also wrote the story for his film since Shopping. Particularly, once Michael realises that the spirits really can talk to him, there’s a great sense of comedy added to the film which changes the mood nicely. However, the cast also do an excellent job. Andrew McCarthy maybe slightly over-acts some of his lines but they add to the charm of his troubled character. Honor Blackman is fantastic as the old Sight-holder and Maurice Roëves does a great job as the extremely unlikable police chief. Michaela Dicker who would go on to play the villanous Red Queen in Resident Evil, plays the ghost girl Alice and although her part is minimalistic, it works pretty well to establish the “creepy little girl” horror trope in the film. The film also contains many obvious references to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, another element it shares with Anderson’s follow-up movie.

All said though, The Sight does have a few very obvious and glaring weaknesses. The scenes set in “New York” at the film’s start are horrendous. It’s clear, these were not actually shot in New York but Anderson does some pretty ridiculous things to hide the fact, mainly by using obscene camera shaking to make the scenes seem more busy than they actually are. The end result is, frankly, more nauseating than effective and made all the more obvious once the movie moves to London where we are treated to wonderful steady and graceful camera motions (such as we come to expect from Anderson). The film’s visuals are excellent which is why this momentary lapse as the film’s start feels so inexcusable.

The Sight (2)The few visual effects in the film have been used sparingly and professionally – but I wasn’t a particular fan of the “spiral staircase standing in for ascending to heaven” motif that was used a few times in the film. It just seemed kind of silly and cheap. I also felt that the music, barring the very stylish title sequence, was honestly very unmemorable and positively stock. Anderson’s movies usually have soundtracks that really jump at you but this one was almost painfully plain. Lastly, while I don’t feel the film’s compact running time hit it too badly, I do feel that the mystery of the murderer’s identity wasn’t given a lot of time to develop and the big revelations all really happen in the last 15 minutes of the film. This isn’t necessarily Anderson’s fault but the one little element of misdirection used very late in the film was almost comically cheap.

Also, Jason Isaacs’s barely noticeable cameo at the end or the artsy finale shot of Michael walking through a desolate New York in his dreams, didn’t add much but made me rather suspect the movie was possibly considered a back-door pilot for a TV series. If this idea had been followed on, I wouldn’t have objected but now it just seems like a really strange note to end the movie on.

The Sight is a competently shot, well-acted and fairly entertaining paranormal murder mystery. It has its weak points but is over-all very amusing and not at all boring or dragged out. It maybe lands a bit short in comparison to Anderson’s feature-length films in regards to its structure but the style is recognisable. I highly recommend as a fun paranormal ghost film. Not brilliant but pretty good all things considered.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

  • +1 That cool Paul W.S. Anderson look.
  • +1 The comedy and dialogue over-all.
  • +½ Michael’s interaction with the ghosts.
  • +½ The Cast.
  • -1 The opening New York scene.
  • -½ The final scene is a bit cryptic and confusing.
  • -½ The Score.
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