Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)

A decent look into the psyche of an absolutely disturbed woman, and a very effective piece of psychological horror by Polanski…at least in the second half.  I certainly could’ve done without scene after scene of Catherine Deneuve (whose startling beauty makes her character’s sheer madness and paranoia that much more disturbing) wandering comatosely around the streets of London, but when she completely goes over the edge and locks herself in her sister’s increasingly decrepit apartment, things really pick up.  I won’t get into the supposed psychological and sexual contexts/symbolism or how Carole’s sexual fears and paranoia are Freudian or crap like that, because honestly I was just interested in Polanski’s god-given talent for establishing mood and, yes, making you jump out of your seat.

Really, Polanski gives us the best of both worlds in terms of horror: great mood and great scares.  The mood pretty much begins and ends with some of the best sound effects I’ve heard in a very long time – the dripping water from the tub where a mad Carole keeps her…cargo, the flies buzzing around the rotting rabbit in the living room, the piano playing that scale over and over again in the adjoining apartment, the ringing telephone, which might or might not simply be going on in Carole’s deranged mind.  There’s those sounds, and there’s the long stretches of eerie quiet as Carole wanders around the apartment, retreating further and further within her mind, as Polanski subtly and cleverly makes the apartment seem more and more ominous with the wide-angle lens, decreasing the light, gradually making the low-angle shots more pronounced, etc.  It all sets up for some great ‘what the fuck’ moments – some random dude in the mirror, complete with a John Carpenter-esque heart-stopping music cue, or the walls suddenly cracking open, or a strange man just…appearing next to Carole as she sleeps, or the walls literally coming alive, hands and all.  It’s just a shame, then, that Deneuve’s Carole is such an empty shell of a character by the end…creepy, yes, but nothing deep, and actually pretty absurd when she goes all half-comatose on us.  The whole crazy angle, something to do with sexual repression and anxiety, is exaggerated to no end…woe upon anybody with a Y chromosome who dares to visit her in that shitty apartment, whether it’s her concerned love interest or the slimy landlord.  Deneuve’s exaggerated disconnection from the world around her bothered me as it became more pronounced, and it’s ‘cuz of that that I didn’t really buy this as a truly convincing subjective look into an insane mind (Lodge Kerrigan’s “Clean, Shaven,” for instance, with some of the most disturbing use of sound I’ve ever experienced in a single film, did a hell of a better job of getting into the head of a disturbed individual).  But forget all that deep psychological shit or trying to find a grand answer to the supposed symbols we’re shown, ‘cuz in terms of simply establishing mood and scaring the crap out of you, “Repulsion” is an unbelievable success.


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