Friday, September 4, 2009

FEATURE: Horror/Thriller 1 - - - - Repulsion

So it has started.

Last night, I came up with the idea to attempt a new feature for this site. I will be going through a genre, featuring 4-5 smaller/lesser seen films, in hopes of not only sparking an interesting debate about films and their genres, but getting people to see these gems. Most of the time they will be films I have not seen, but in the case of my first genre, I've had the pleasure of seeing all but one of these films (all but film 3, Vampyr). The first film up is Roman Polanski's English Feature debut, Repulsion, and I must say, it's one hell of a way to kick things off.

Repulsion follows a Belgian girl, Carol, who happens to work as a manicurist at a London beauty salon. While having lunch one day, a good looking young man, Colin, spots her and makes a date for another evening. She shares a flat with her sister Helen. Her sister's married lover, Michael, brings out her dislike of men which she cannot explain to Colin. Michael takes Helen abroad for a holiday in Italy. Left alone in their flat, Carol's moments of catalepsy and hallucination increase and she begins to fall deeper and deeper into madness.

After bursting onto the scene with the stellar Knife In The Water, Polanski jumped into the American film scene with this film, and has since been one of the most controversial directors on, and arguably the most controversial one off screen. However, more so than the man's direction, is his brilliant use of sound and visuals within this film. This is where much of the intensity and frights are heightened. As the length of time goes, the seemingly inconsequential world around her (bells ringing from a church, for example) just drive not only our slowly maddening heroine, but the viewer as well, crazy.

Along with the sound that encompasses the world, the look of the world is quite stark as well. The stunning black and white cinematography, from the hands of Gilbert Taylor, really adds to the depressing and bleak state that befalls our lead. Polanski is also able to find the most disgusting and grotesque things in the most of mundane actions or things, such as say the mouth of a person getting a facial, or the wrinkles on a persons cheeks, which only deepens the distress of Carol.

Speaking of Carol, the beautiful Catherine Deneuve may very well be the biggest star of this film. She's a stunning human being, yet has the gall to really go into the darkest regions of her conscience. I'm currently in a Story Making class, and we just read the following quote, which I feel is very pertinent when discussing Deneuve's performance in this film:

The great Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa said that to be an artist means never to avert your eyes. And that's the hardest thing, because you want to flinch. The artist must go into the white hot center of himself, and our impulse when we get there is to look away.

Robert Olen Baker

She allows herself to be framed and distorted via awkward camera angles and instead of being some sort of vain lead, as many lead actresses can be, she doesn't mind getting her hands a bit, or in this case very, dirty. However, as dirty as she may get, there is still this distinct sense of, not only realism, but an innocence that makes her easily relate able, if a bit of a caricature.

From minor cracks in the wall, to someone simply playing scales on a piano, the film doesn't hit you over the head with jump scares. Sure, the first true scare that we see is a jump scare, but it wouldn't work if it hadn't been for the first 40 minutes. The film is a very slow burn. As I tweeted a while back in regards to the script for Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, imagine placing your hand on a stove burner, and slowly increasing the temperature, until it burns, leaving you with a gnarly scare, that sticks with you for days. This film lulls you into a state of normalcy, that you begin to think that the hallucinations that are ailing our lead are true beings, making it all the more real for the viewer. You are with this girl throughout her day, and when things go bad, you feel for her.

The film primarily takes place in her apartment, and is similar in feel and tone to say, the parts of Silent Hill 4, when you are back in the room. As the film goes, the room begins to change, she begins to have hallucinations, and you are forced, often times in complete silence, to go through the awful things that our lead goes through. We follow her into her own dark version of hell.

The final thing that really stuck out about this film for me is the score. It's a jazz style score, which is a weird and interesting mix of tone with the complete degradation that this film follows. It's erratic and over the top, which accompanies the insane swings in mood that our lead goes through. One minute it will be intense and very percussion heavy, almost like a James Newton Howard piece, and then it will swoop into a David Holmes style brass tune.

The most important thing that this film does involves how it compares to today's horror films. This film was one of the first horror films of that time to take Hitchockian thrills and true scares, and mash them together in a Kanye West style mash up with more independent or art house aesthetics. You get the very art house-esque directorial style from Polanski, with his long takes against more static use of the camera, with very artistic camera angles and close ups, along with a decent into madness comparable to that of say Psycho. While it may not be as well renowned as that classic, I may have to say, I think Repulsion, while not necessarily being the better movie, is a far more interesting take on madness than the aforementioned Hitchcock piece.

The reason I say that it may not be the superior film, is that this film, in all of it's true brilliance, does have a few flaws.

While the opening of the film does set up the slow burn style of terror that the latter two-thirds falls under, that same last two acts feature a few slower moments. While comparisons to Psycho can be seen, the film doesn't have the constant shock value that that classic does. While this does lead to a much more interesting ending, the film doesn't truly amp itself up to 11 for any sustained piece of time. Also, the score, while an interesting one in concept, is beyond jarring, and at moments, took me out of the film. Both of these things worked for me for the most part, but for many people, I know these will jar them the wrong way.

All in all, this is beyond a brilliant film. I finished it about an hour ago, and I know it may be a few days before I get a good nights sleep. This is both one of the most interesting and truly frightening films I've seen in a long time. It doesn't rely on your run of the mill guy-jumps-out-of-corner style scares, or Saw 34 gore, it just relies on the viewer investing all one can into the lead, and following her into her own personal hell.


Here is the films theatrical trailer:

Go see something good!

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