"Alligator Eyes"--which made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990 and went on to play the festival circuit--is a road picture that takes some surprisingly compelling twists.
The characters in this auspicious first-time feature from writer-director John Feldman (who has done numerous shorts and experimental films) are so nicely developed, amid such style, that we don't initially realize that this is a variation on a cliche: the one about the blind person who can see, and the sighted who are blind.
The story, filmed largely on the byways of North Carolina, finds three old chums hitting the road for a respite from the grind of New York City. But it's not just a vacation they crave. Former college lovers Marjorie (Mary McLain) and Lance (Allen McCullough) are hoping to pick up the pieces of their old romance. Robbie (Roger Kabler) is trying to get himself together after being dumped by his girlfriend.
Though his character is either drunk or hung-over throughout most of the film, it's Robbie who proves to be the most lucid of the trio. After the group picks up a blind hitchhiker named Pauline (Annabelle Larsen), Robbie's the one who comes to recognize her growing power over them.
It happens slowly--beginning with her attempts to deceive them into thinking she can see (as she later explains, she wanted to be treated like a normal person). Then comes her casual suggestion that they change their travel plans. Soon, it's the enigmatic Pauline who's calling the shots--and the trio follows. As Robbie notes, she was like "some twisted Messiah with a Braille compass."
Though the psychodrama ultimately leads to a disappointing climax, involving a long-brewing quest for revenge, "Alligator Eyes" is an example of a low-budget film that offers enough pleasures to make its side trips--if not its entire journey--worthwhile. It is well photographed and acted (even though this marks the debut for all four principals), and its dialogue explores everything from relationships to the fantastic ramblings of manipulative minds which, it turns out, have themselves been manipulated.
Especially mesmerizing: Pauline's slowly detailed account of how she plans to one day go beneath the sea and join the alligators that act as "guides" to humans populating the caves of the lost continent of Atlantis.