23 April 2014

(1965)

Roman Polanski's classic centers around a beautiful repressed woman played by Catherine Denueve. When left alone in her sister's apartment, her paranoia leads to instability and eventually to murder...

Polanski's first English language film, Repulsion remains one of the best horror films of the mind and is a fine example of the director's purely unique brand of psychological terror.

Carol Ledoux (Denueve) is a mentally deteriorating woman who is both attracted to and repelled by the idea of sex. She lives in a London flat with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux).

Helen's boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry) is a frequent visitor, much to Carol's annoyance. There's a suitor in Carol's life named Colin (John Fraser), but she continuously spurns his advances. One time when he kisses her, she runs off to brush her teeth and rinse.

Carol works at a beauty salon, where she has not been performing up to standard lately. Her boss Miss Balch (Renee Houston), remains patient with Carol, but sends her home one day after she cuts the finger of a woman she was giving a manicure to.

Isolated both at home and at work, she seems to have a solitary friend, Bridget (Helen Fraser), the only person who is able to make her laugh.

When Helen goes on a vacation with her boyfriend, leaving Carol alone in the large bleak apartment they share, Carol loses her ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. She lets her nightmares and fears overcome her, which leads to devastating results.

She fantasizes a phantom lover, even putting on lipstick in preparation, then imagines being brutally raped instead. As she gradually loses her mind, she sees images of the walls of the apartment cracking open, as well as hands reaching out to grab and fondle her.

When Colin breaks into the locked apartment to find out why she hasn't been answering his calls, Carol murders him by clubbing him with a candle holder and puts his body in the bathtub.

The landlord shows up to collect the rent and is aroused by her semi-nude state. He makes an advance at her and she slashes him with a straight razor.

In the end, Helen and John return home from their vacation to find Carol in a catatonic state, a shell of her former self. A family photograph reveals that perhaps there were early signs pointing to her eventual mental state. She is posed with a slight maniacal look in her eyes. But the photo also reveals something else...the young girl is gazing at her father, perhaps revealing the true nature behind Carol's tortured self.

Repulsion remains a truly disturbing film. It is shocking to see such an attractive woman's descent into madness. Deneuve, long considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, is excellent.

Claustrophobic and eerie, with a calculated absence of gore, it was a sure sign that Roman Polanski was on his way to becoming a major talent. One of the definitive shockers of the 60's, Leonard Maltin says it "will leave you feeling uneasy for days afterward."

The director's best films have involved stories in which the main character is alienated by his or her surroundings and the people in their lives. With Deneuve's Carol, we see what she sees and we fear what she fears.

Polanski makes it work and the movie is all the more frightening by the scarcity of dialogue, the visions, and Carol's cold, detached actions. Functioning as pure horror, a drama, and a character study, Repulsion is top-notch and definitely needs to be seen.

In 1976, Polanski returned to this theme with The Tenant, an underrated but equally disturbing motion picture.


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