High-buffed, low-rack pulp, Eye of the Beholder is lovable in its own addled, literal-minded way. Its neo-noir, psych-thriller signifiers—Hitchcock fixation, shlumpy voyeur, femme fatale going “incognito” in fright wig and mink stole—don’t just provide goofy flash via flashback but service a grief-concerned narrative in which time and space collapse into a surrealist black hole.
Said narrative is rather gimpy, aided along by Ewan McGregor—whose stoic, sorrowing British intelligence agent enjoys uncanny luck in tracking suspects who have sex and/or kill people in front of uncurtained windows—and by Ashley Judd, whose murderous vixen is considerate enough to off her first victim in a well-lit glass house. McGregor can’t bust her, though, because the specter of his missing daughter, Lucy—an accusatory phantom menace straight out of The Sixth Sense—implores him not to. McGregor gradually gleans Judd’s sad backstory—abandoned by Dad as a child, traumatic stint in juvie—and the Lucy figure fades out as he begins stalking his surrogate lost child across the country, watching from afar as Judd kills, marries, and wanders into bad straits with a bleached drifter (Jason Priestley, whooping it up). What started out as Rear Window redux becomes Vertigo with a twist of Limey. Judd’s ability to make a bloodthirsty nutbag sympathetic and still maintain a spiked camp edge is thrilling; she even manages to turn a dopey astrology motif into a humanizing character quirk. When hunter and hunted finally meet in an Alaskan diner, Judd and McGregor achieve Mulder-and-Scully chemistry; two consummate pros haven’t slummed so grandly in a genre piece since Pacino and De Niro went mano a mano over Formica in Heat.
** A consummate pro of a different order, Annie Sprinkle, is a featured player in Monika Treut’s doc Gendernauts, which tracks a loose circle of transgender Bay Area denizens and friends. Treut sometimes loses focus, but her observational skills are manifest in the film’s wealth of quotable quotes (“Is that your Giuliani impression?” a New York import asks a pelvic-thrusting drag king) and the sense it leaves of both the toll and the kick of self-invention. “When people ask me if I’m a boy or a girl,” says one interviewee, “I say, ‘Yes.’ “