Sightless - review (Netflix)
I watch so as you do not have to.
Brief synopsis: After a violinist is blinded in a violent assault, she wakes up in a hospital bed and is told that she will be blind for life. She calls her brother and he arranges an apartment for her and a part-time nurse. When she begins to hear strange sounds and suffer nightmares, she thinks that she might be losing her mind.
Is it any good?: Not really, no. Sightless takes ideas from far better films - Shutter Island and Misery to name two - and fashions a convoluted story that promises more than it delivers.
Spoiler territory: a young, blind woman, Ellen Ashland (Madelaine Petsch), makes her way across her apartment to a balcony. She climbs over the rail and jumps. A month earlier she was in the hospital, waking after being assaulted and blinded by a chemical being thrown into her face.
With her eyes still bandaged, a nurse, Omar (Deniz Akdeniz) comes and speaks to her. He takes her bandages off. This is the first time Ellen realises she cannot see. Omar tells her that he will go and get the doctor to speak with her. He knocks twice on the wall as he leaves.
Doctor Katsuro (Mathew Yang King) comes in to examine her. The doctor tells her that the damage to her eyes is irreversible. Ellen speaks to Detective Bryce (Jarrod Crawford) about the assault. She tells him that the only valuable item she had was her violin. She is sure that the assault was personal.
The detective asks if it could be her ex-husband or a fan, as she is famous. Ellen tells him that she has not been famous for a long time. Bryce tells her that her type of fame never goes away. He assures her that they will catch her assaulter.
Omar comes to see her later. He has her brother on the phone. He is in Japan but has arranged an apartment for her and a part-time nurse, Clayton (Alexander Koch). The nurse comes highly recommended.
Ellen moves into her new apartment. She is woken by knocking on her bedroom door. She is in her new apartment and Clayton has come to meet her. He has keys. A reluctant Ellen allows Clayton to enter the bedroom. She tells him that she does not remember coming to the apartment. Clayton looks at her medication and tells her it probably knocked her out.
He tells her about the layout of the apartment and that he will prepare lunch for her. Ellen leaves her bed and goes into the lounge-cum-dining area. Clayton explains that he will be there on the weekdays from eleven to two. He is there to help her adjust to her new reality. He leaves, telling her he has to go to his next appointment.
Ellen calls her friend Sasha but gets her answer machine. She goes to sleep and is haunted by the night of the assault. The next day, Clayton brings her a parrot. Ellen asks him what colour it is. He tells her that it can be whatever colour she wants it to be. He explains that she is as free as her mind allows her to be.
Ellen walks over to the balcony and calls Clayton over. She tells him that she can hear all the street sounds clearly at that window but, she walks over to an adjacent wall’s window, she cannot hear anything at that wall. Clayton tells her that it is because the window has thicker glass. He tells her that she has a phone message.
It is from the detective. There were no fingerprints and most of the suspects are accounted for. They did find a boot print. Clayton tells her that she is safe in the apartment. Ellen scoffs, telling him that is what her ex-husband always told her; that she was safe with him.
She asks Clayton if he googled her. Clayton lies but quickly admits that he did. So he knows about her ex-husband’s shady past and financial impropriety. Her husband destroyed a lot of people’s lives, including her friend Sasha’s. Imprisoned for his crimes, Ellen believes that one of the people that he ripped off is targeting her because they cannot get to him.
Clayton asks her about her music. She had been a child prodigy, her album a bestseller. She does not want to talk about her musical past. Clayton tries to keep talking but she shuts him down. After lunch, Clayton tells her he is leaving but is leaving her a gift. He gives her a cane.
Alone, Ellen turns on the television but she cannot find a channel, the television just giving off static. She puts on some music and picks up the cane. Later, Ellen lays in bed trying to sleep. She hears footsteps and tries to call security. She gets an answering machine. She gets up and checks the front door.
Ellen goes into the bathroom. She pauses, a bottle of pills in her hand. She nervously puts the pills down and calls Clayton. As he answers, she ends the call. He calls her back. Ellen tells him it was an accident and ends the call again. She hears a woman crying and a man shouting at her. The voices are coming from the air vent.
The next day, Ellen tells Clayton about what happened. He tells her that her senses are going into overdrive and fooling her. He asks her if she wants to go out for lunch. No, she does not. Later, she stands by the balcony window listening to the outside world.
She leaves the apartment and goes to the apartment next door and rings the bell. Nobody answers. She leaves a note on the door. Clayton is over again. He is taking Ellen through some computer commands. She does not want to learn about the computer.
She asks him how he got into this line of work and why. He tells her it was because his mother was sick growing up. He tells her that because she was bedridden, she would, with his help make ornate birdcages. It is what helped to give him a vivid imagination, something he finds useful in his work, dealing with different personalities.
Ellen asks him to describe what is happening outside. Clayton tells her what is happening in the outside world. She asks if she can ‘see’ him. He lets her touch his face. Clayton leans in to kiss her but an alarm interrupts him and he loses his nerve. He leaves.
Alone in her apartment, Ellen is drinking. There is a knock at the door. Lana (December Ensminger), the woman from next door, calls to her. She saw the note. Ellen opens the door. Lana introduces herself and tells her she brought tea. Ellen tells her that she is blind. Lana looks around the apartment. She takes out a cigarette and asks Ellen if she minds her smoking. Ellen tells her she can smoke outside.
Lana lights up anyway, especially on hearing that Ellen’s brother is a smoker. Lana asks about her brother. She then asks her about losing her sight. How does she know that she lost her sight and was not always blind? A panicked Lana tries to leave. Ellen grabs her. She feels her face and feels stitches on it. Lana whispers in her ear, telling her not to trust anyone.
Lana leaves the apartment. Her husband, Russo (Lee Jones), is back. Ellen calls Clayton and tells him that she thinks Lana’s husband assaults her. Clayton tells her he met the husband and that he is a nice man. She calls detective Bryce. He sends a police officer over. She speaks to him again. He tells her that the neighbour has a bit of a history for histrionics and is not mentally stable.
The next day, Ellen is talking to Clayton and telling him that she hears the same sounds at the same time every day. The next day, she calls him over to the window as she hears the car. There seems to be a pattern. He tells her that the man gets picked up the same time every day when he arrives at the apartment.
He tells her that she is letting her other senses overwhelm her. Later, Ellen is listening at the air duct. Before she retires, she stands in her bathroom remembering the night of the attack. She contemplates suicide again.
The next day, Ellen goes to see Lana and encounters Russo instead. He intimidates her, telling her she is paranoid. Clayton comes to see her. He tells her he has feelings for her and thinks it would be better if he gave up his position. He tries to kiss her again and she recoils. Ellen tells him she needs him to be professional and get her through whatever she is going through at that moment. Clayton apologises and leaves.
She calls Sasha again but gets her voicemail. She gets attacked by a masked assailant in her apartment. She passes out after being strangled. She wakes up to the voice of a paramedic, Rafferty (MIkandrew). He tells her that he tended to her wrist wounds. He cannot see any neck marks. He leaves the room. Clayton comes into the bedroom.
He tells her he is worried about her drinking. Ellen speaks to detective Bryce. He tells her that Sasha has disappeared and the boot print he found is Sasha's size. He thinks she attacked her. Ellen tells him that a face mask was the last thing she saw. Bryce tells her there are no signs of a break-in and no one was seen on the security cameras.
A fraught Ellen realises that no one believes her versions of events. Clayton comes to see her the next morning. After he leaves, Ellen dictates a suicide letter to the computer. She goes to her balcony, climbs over and jumps.
A while later, Ellen wakes up on the floor of a dark room. She can still hear the same sounds but everything around her is different. She feels her way around. Her fingers are met with soundproof cladding. As the outdoor sounds continue, Ellen tries to find an exit. She feels her way back to the balcony and climbs back into the apartment.
She tries to escape, going out of the apartment to the lift. It does not work. A panicked and confused Ellen knocks on Lana’s door. She tells Lana that she left her lighter in her apartment. In the apartment, Ellen starts the water running and whispers to Lana, asking her why they are there. Lana tells her it is because she saved them. Russo comes to get Lana.
Clayton turns up after Lana and Russo have left. Ellen confronts him about his lies. He tells her it is to help her acclimatise to her new reality and because she is suffering from PTSD. Ellen relaxes and he prepares dinner for them both.
At dinner, Clayton gives her a violin. He tells her it can help her get back to her old self. The oven dings. Clayton knocks twice on the table and it triggers memories of the multiple interactions she has had with people since her assault and their commonality.
Ellen realises that all of her interactions have been with Clayton. She asks him to have a drink with her, telling him to take a seat. She drops the drink she hands to him. As he goes to pick it up, she hits him with a knife block. She takes his keys and leaves the apartment.
She finds herself in a warehouse. She feels the costumes of all the characters Clayton had inhabited. She finds Lana and tells they need to leave. Lana tells her that she is home. She is his sister. She tells Ellen that she cannot save her like she saved Clayton. She saved him from the dark.
Ellen hears Clayton. She is still trying to persuade Lana to leave with her. Lana tells her she has to go alone and there is only one way out and it is back in the apartment through the air duct. Ellen leaves the room but is immediately caught by Clayton. He knocks her out and ties her up.
When she comes to, he tells her that his father abused him by locking him in the same basement that she is in for three and a half years. He only had his imagination to keep him company. His sister snuck music into the basement; Ellen’s music. The only way she could understand how it was for him was if she was blind to everything as well.
Ellen tells him that she will make his world real but only if he can be himself, not the multiple characters he has been. Clayton is hesitant. She takes the chance of his distraction to grab his taser and shocks him unconscious. She gets to the air duct but realises it is not large enough for her to get out of. All she finds is a vial in it.
Clayton catches up with her in the apartment and throws her around as she tries to escape. He grabs her, seeing the empty vial in her hand. She spits the contents into his face blinding him. Clayton begins shouting for his sister. Lana comes and lets Ellen out, taking out of the basement.
Six months later, a still blind Ellen has started playing the violin again and is about to do a concert. The end.
Final thoughts: Sightless is a moderate, if slightly underwhelming, thriller. Written and directed by the backward named Cooper Karl, it is a film a little too clever for its own good. Karl shows the story mostly through the perspective of the blind Ellen, so before the revelation that her present existence is fabricated, there is no real indication as to where the film is going.
All the other characters that the viewer sees are creations of Ellen’s imagination, in a visual sense, brought to life by Clayton. The PTSD could have been caused by hallucinogens given to Ellen by Clayton but that is left somewhat unclear.
Because the film is shot entirely within the confines of the apartment and fake building, there is never any sense of the ridiculousness of the story - how come nobody noticed a world-famous violinist had gone missing? - so one is not pulled out of it by those thoughts, which is a good thing.
The film moves at a good pace, even if nothing seems to really happen. Petsch is very watchable, her performance easily making one forget that she is in Riverdale. Koch is similarly impressive as the not quite trustworthy Clayton.
The film is well directed by Karl and looks good with the shot selection and constantly keeps the viewer confused as to what is going on. Ensminger is fine as Lana but the character is mostly exposition and has very little else to do.
Clayton’s reasoning for blinding and kidnapping Ellen is as bad and equally ungrateful as the reasoning of Yashida in 2013’s The Wolverine, repaying a good deed with an extremely horrible one.
At one-hundred-and-twenty-nine minutes long, Sightless is not a long film and bumps along quite quickly. Unfortunately, it is not as smart as it would like to be.