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"I've got nothing against actors," declared writer/director Daniel Erickson after the Los Angeles premiere of his all-mannequin thriller "Eve's Necklace". Erickson originally wrote the script thinking that he would in fact cast real actors, but budget limitations forced him to think outside the box. The script had already been designed with economics in mind; most of it the action takes place inside one house, and there are only four principal characters. Once the mannequin idea emerged, though, Erickson saw a way to save even more money while also embarking on a bold experiment.
Programmed as part of the American Cinematheque's 2010 Noir City festival, the film's story is simple. Eva is a beautiful Mexican immigrant who's found wedded bliss with William in America. But Eve has a past, and their security is now being threatened by Ramon, who's demanding that Eve continue her "modeling" career or else buy out her contract for $20,000. Complications ensue when Eve discovers she's pregnant, while William struggles to reconcile his wife's past with his desire to protect her from harm.
This could be the ostensible setup for any number of films noir, but noir purists might balk a bit at giving "Eve's Necklace" the label. Erickson himself claims that he hadn't really conceived of the film as a noir, but more of a thriller. The decision to shoot in black and white gives it a noirish feel, as does the "woman with a past" theme. But the mannequin aspect also gives the movie a unique feel of its own, which results in a lot of scenes that are perversely funny. Seeing a real actor in a position where he's about to have his head run over is disturbing; the audience is much more detached knowing it's a mannequin. Likewise seeing mannequins shave, shower, and blow smoke rings is oddly comical. But Erickson escalates the tension effectively, and his affection for the thriller genre places the film squarely within the ballpark of noir.
One of the hallmarks of classic film noir is the music, and in this regard Erickson wears his Hitchcockian influences on his sleeve. In an inspired move, much of the music in Eve's Necklace comes from the great composer Bernard Hermann himself. Hermann composed scores for a number of Hitchcock's most iconic films, including North By Northwest, Vertigo, and Psycho. What's less well known is that the two men weren't always on the same page, and that Hermann's score for Hitch's 1966 film Torn Curtain was rejected. A collector of film scores himself, Erickson took the steps to license Hermann's score for the festival exhibition of Eve's Necklace. Hermann's dramatic score, which could have been overpowering instead ends up adding just the right element of suspense. Erickson added that they are currently in negotiations to secure permanent rights to the music.
All genre concerns aside, one of the most impressive things about Eve's Necklace is how gritty and realistic it feels. Erickson has a great eye for the details of day to day life, and it's a credit to his film-making skills that there are a lot of moments during the film where you forget you're not watching real people. The actors who provide the characters voices all do fine work, especially John Hawkes, who was recently featured in 2010 Sundance prize winner "Winter's Bone".
One of the audience members asked if Erickson would consider re-making Eve's Necklace with real actors. It would be a shame if he did, not only because the mannequins in the film are great fun, but also because Eve's Necklace is a striking example of how far a little money and a lot of creativity can take you.
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