Roman Polanski is probably most known for his hit film, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and his even more-recent hit, The Pianist, which won Oscars for Polanski (Best Director), Ronald Harwood (Best Screenplay) and Adrien Brody Best Actor. The one film out of Roman Polanski’s entire filmography that I believe deserves more attention would definitely have to be Repulsion, Polanksi’s first English-language film.
I should start off by saying that although the horror genre is one of my favorites, it is increasingly hard for me to find great horror films. Too many movies in this particular genre focus on scares and cheap thrills, eschewing carefully crafted writing in favor of unnecessary violence and gore that adds nothing to the film in the long run. I lean towards horror films that place an emphasis on story and character, building a house from a foundation and then tearing it down one bloody floor after the next. Repulsion fits this mold and allows itself to explore that house in a twisted, psychological sense.
French mega-star Catherine Deneuve plays Carole, who comes to England to house sit for her sister’s apartment while her and her boyfriend go out on a trip. When you first encounter Carole, you can tell that something is a bit off with her, but nothing too alarming. She seems like a bit of a recluse who suffers from paranoia, firing off twitchy glances left and right, unsure of the environments around her and even more suspicious of the people who populate said places.
How she ended up the way she is shown is never really explained, which ends up being one of the film’s strengths. Roman Polanski makes the very-wise choice in never succumbing to over-explaining things here, which can be another thorn in the side of modern horror films. It allows you to empathize with her in a weird way; you may not completely understand why she acts the way she does but you sense that there’s a very good reason for this. Her brittle state of mind serves as the launchpad for the stratosphere that the film is catapulted into.
As Carole spends more and more time holed up in this apartment, her mental state deteriorates. At first, she is being courted by men who wish to date her (which is where part of the Repulsion of the title comes to mind) which she vehemently rejects but turns deadly when she lashes out at almost any and everyone she encounters. On top of that, she starts to feel as if she is being watched and the cracks in the walls of the apartment begin to take a life of their own. Her environment slowly becomes her enemy and, as a viewer, we aren’t completely sure as to what is real and what isn’t.
The brilliance of the film is that by placing us so firmly with her character, we experience this psychosis with her. The viewer isn’t merely a spectator but becomes a victim of her psychosis. It is a film that, as it unfolds, may make you question your own sanity, your own state of mental being. There are definitely a few twists and scares thrown in but the meat of this film revolves around a downward spiral into uncertainty of the mind. The horror comes from not just the actions you see in the film but from examining your own consciousness. Any time a piece of art pits you against yourself, you know your in the midst of something very special.
When the film was over, I kept thinking about how people let one bad experience in life loom largely over their future decisions which can ultimately hurt themselves along with others around them. A traumatic event is never easy to shake off but where do you draw the line when this event causes you to refuse to communicate with others, seclude yourself and become completely unsociable? At what point do we step in and try and help out a friend who is obviously having trouble seeing the world is it truly can be, beyond the devils potentially lurking in the shadows? At what point is paranoia simply paranoia? This film definitely has a lot to offer for the mind, the soul, and the part of us that likes to be frightened by horror films; a genuine triple threat that rises above the trappings that could have weighed it down. Repulsion is my favorite horror film of all time and if you give it a chance, it may possibly become yours as well.
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