Eve's Bayou is a film shocking in methods and motives.
In methods, it creates a movie that has bone-chilling characters, moments at which you jump, and yet has characters that make you emotional putty in writer-director Kasi Lemmons' hands. In effortlessly sidesteps cliches involving taboo subjects such as incest.
In motives, Eve's Bayou is one of those rare movies that has characters about whom you can care... no matter what they have done or profess to do. Going far beyond just a tiny bit of moral ambiguity, all of the residents of Eve's Bayou live in a realm of gray. It makes you realize perfectly that life can at the same time be utterly chilling and incredibly dramatic.
The story of Eve's Bayou deals with the descendents of a slave named Eve and Jean-Paul Batiste, who inhabit an incredibly nice home on the Louisiana bayou. The Batiste family is a powder keg waiting to explode. It has a philandering father (Samuel L. Jackson), a psychic aunt (Debbi Morgan), and three children under fifteen. The mother is overprotective and knows of her husbands infidelities. The aunt is cursed that each man she marries will die.
After a party, Eve Batiste (the middle child, who voices the opening line as an adult) catches her father with a local flirt named Mattie Mereaux (Lisa Nicole Carson). To a 10 year old, this is a destroying moment. Her innocence is shattered in that very moment. She begins to become curious about what other secrets lie in the bayou, swimming on the surface of the water like snakes ready to strike.
Curiosity killed the cat, but it is not Eve who suffers for it. Instead, it eventually is her father. How this comes about you will have to watch the movie yourself to discover.
The greatness of this film comes in its ability to be almost all things at once. Encompassed inside its borders are tinges of comedy, doses of drama, and an abundance of thrills. Like Eyes Wide Shut, its thrills come from the intellectual level. They are not, in any way, shape, or form, visceral. As the mystery unravels itself, you are drawn more and more into the characters and the temperature of the room seems to continually decrease.
Needless to say, this is not your everyday expectation for a thriller.
Kasi Lemmons, a first time director, handles everything on her set with an adept hand. Although my pick still would go with Atom Egoyan for The Sweet Hereafter for Best Director in 1997, Lemmons was passed over for a nomination. Jurnee Smollett, playing 10-year-old Eve, acts as if she were born and raised in front of the camera. Her facial expressions are perfectly under control, the timbre of her voice hers to command. Not since Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver have I seen a child do so well in such an ambiguous role.
The one major disappointment in Eve's Bayou comes in the form of Samuel L. Jackson, who looks a little too happy-go-lucky for the part. His smile is a little to wide, his eyes a little too bright. Despite the fact that he spends half the movie screwing women other than his wife its hard to really hate him. Then again, perhaps that is the way the director wanted it.
A film is a selection of images, some elusive, others printed indelibly upon the brain. Eve's Bayou will never leave once it is there.
Run time: 109 mins
In Theaters: Friday 7th November 1997
Distributed by: Lions Gate Films
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 41 Rotten: 10
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Screenwriter: Kasi Lemmons
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson as Louis Batiste, Jurnee Smollett as Roz Batiste, Meagan Good as Roz Batiste, Lynn Whitfield as Roz Batiste, Lisa Nicole Carson as Matty Mereaux, Diahann Carroll as Elzora, Roger Guenveur Smith as Lenny Mereaux, Debbi Morgan as Mozelle Batiste Delacroix, Victoria Rowell as Stevie Hobbs
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