You have to hand it to Atom Egoyan: no matter how many flops he’s accrued, he won’t chase trends. While his new film Seven Veils positions itself in the high-definition now––family zoom calls, iPhone-captured showbiz misconduct, or the most disingenuous line-delivery of the word “podcast” ever––the Canadian director’s latest feels like his millionth variation on “trauma mediated through a low-res video camera.”
Though not so much another of his small-scale thrillers as it is Hitchcock’s Marnie meets Tár, an odyssey through the power dynamics of a hoity-toity creative world colliding with sexual trauma. Made concurrently with Egoyan’s own stint staging the opera Salome in Toronto this past winter, the film is nothing if not interesting for being an example of a director racing to put together a movie that grafts his usual preoccupations onto a quickly available business opportunity.
Here, the director doing the bidding of the Canadian Opera Company is Jeanine (Amanda Seyfried), who has some lineage with the production due to her deceased mentor having staged it earlier in his career. It being passed down from him to her essentially, she feels a major emotional connection to it, which she refers to as containing opera’s “first sex crime.”
As we’ll come to see through awkward, misguided flashbacks of her father leading her––blindfolded, dancing and eating oranges––through a forest to what seems like a molestation dungeon, she’s working through a lot of shit. Though for evoking none other than Eric Stoltz’s cameo as a suburban kiddie-porn merchant in The Butterfly Effect, it might be hard for the audience to take this completely seriously, even if the rippling side effects on Jeanine’s life led to her mentor stealing it as inspiration for his own production of Salome.
Jeanine is further disconnected from her family, the reflection of her face cast on her computer screen during family Zoom calls as she begins to clearly notice her husband is having an affair with her ailing mother’s caretaker. Not to mention the other crisis point: a lecherous asshole performer causing a disturbance behind the scenes. Jeanine seems hurdling towards disaster as the pressure of the first performance weighs on her.
No matter how stilted Egoyan’s work is, though, the film’s lucky to have Seyfried, the movie star anchoring a cast of mostly unrecognizable Canadians. Her expressive, large eyes do a lot of heavy-lifting amidst the overwhelming feeling of deadening streaming sheen and unmemorable faces. In fact, there’s one shot of her holding a prop gun to her head that I’m dying to screencap––it makes far more impact than any of Egoyan’s tired tinkering with the multi-media experience of modern living.
If I have virtually nothing positive to say about Seven Veils other than Seyfried’s compelling presence, I can’t quite bring myself to hate it. Frankly, I was never bored, and to some extent––even when dealing with such tricky subject matter––the fact that Egoyan was willing to be the dozenth piece of content I’ve seen in the past year to make a swipe at intimacy coordinators articulates the level of seriousness he’s dealing with here. Maybe it’s objectively horrible, but this won’t be the worst thing you see at a festival.
Seven Veils premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.