Director – John Ruane, Screenplay – John Ruane & Jim Barton, Based on the Novel by Tim Winton, Producers – Peter Beilby & Grainne Marmion, Photography – Ellery Ryan, Music – David Birdie & John Phillips, Special Effects – Michael Bladen, Production Design – Chris Kennedy. Production Company – Beyond Films/Australian Film Finance Corporation/Film Victoria/Entertainment Media/Working Title.
Jamie Croft (Ort Flack), Peter Coyote (Henry Warburton), Lisa Harrow (Alice Flack), Amanda Douge (Tegwyn Flack), Mark Fairall (Sam Flack), Alethea McGrath (Grandmother), Paul Sonkilla (Mr Cherry)
Living on a farm in the Australian Outback, the Flack family are shattered when the father of the house is left a bedridden vegetable following a car crash. Shortly after, the adolescent son Ort sees a glowing eye in the sky above the house, although nobody else can. They are then surprised by the arrival of the enigmatic Henry Warburton, who claims he has been sent by God to help them and soon becomes an essential part of the household. However, Warburton is also torn between his earthly lusts as he seduces both the wife Alice and teenage daughter Tegwyn.
Australian filmmakers have a strange mystical affinity with the Outback – see the likes of Walkabout (1970), The Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), The Last Wave (1977), Razorback (1984), Frog Dreaming/The Quest (1986), The Silver Brumby (1993) and even parts of Crocodile Dundee (1986), which trade in bush wisdom. That Eye, The Sky taps into that same fascination too.
The peculiarly titled That Eye, The Sky is a film about miracles. Although, what it has to say about them is not entirely clear. It does show the appeal of miracles but it also warns that the field is filled with confidence men. There are unexplained happenings – the titular eye in the sky – but exactly what this is meant to be, either literally or symbolically, and why only one character in the film can see it is never made clear. In the end, the film appears to conclude that, despite the presence of conmen, there can also be genuine miracles too. In between all of this however, you are never sure what point the film is trying to make about miracles.
The clear and undeniable influence on That Eye, The Sky is Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (1968), which had a bourgeoisie household visited by an enigmatic Christ-like visitor who proceeded to seduce and completely change everybody’s lives. This has inspired a number of other films about Mysterious Strangers offering ambiguous miracles – see also the likes of Brimstone and Treacle (1982), Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q (2001), Uwe Boll’s The Final Storm (2010), Outside Satan (2011) and Borgman (2013).
That Eye, The Sky works better when presenting its picture of life in the Outback. All in the cast give good performances. Jamie Croft is convincingly naturalistic but best of all is Amanda Douge as the teenage daughter – her confusion and anger at being trapped in a dead-end lifestyle is convincing.
Peter Coyote plays the mysterious stranger. Coyote does well when playing suitably enigmatic. Unfortunately, after the point where he starts rolling around in pain and then emerges to announce that he is on a mission from God, the film takes a major nosedive. Half the audience breaks into laughter and the film never recovers from that moment. The eye effects are also poor – the eye is simply double-exposed over exterior shots of the house.
Trailer here for play adaptation