A married man suspects his wife is having an affair, only to find that something far more disturbing is taking place.
Twelve years before Sam Neill faced down a tyrannosaurus-rex, he faced something far more sinister and devious. I first happened upon this film by accident, scrolling through lists of great horror films on IMDb some years ago (long before I started writing for this blog). By some stroke of luck, this was streaming on Amazon prime at one point or another, and I watched it on a whim. I remember finding it rather incredible, though, at the time, nobody I knew was really into horror films as much as I. This film faded from memory until I recently was attending a bad movie party, attended also by my old film history professor. He brought up this film, and upon hearing him talk about it my mind was flooded with disquieting images from the film. Based on the somewhat foggy memories I had on the film, I revisited it on the premise that I would review it for the 31 Nights Series, and I was absolutely thrilled that I did. This film is symbolic and subtle while at the same time being shocking and gratuitous. It’s deviously dark and also fantastical in a way that few horror movies today are executed.
“There’s nothing to fear, except God.”
Mark (Sam Neil, “Jurassic Park”) and Anna (Isabelle Adjani, “The Tenant”) are going through a rough spot in their marriage, but Mark is still determined to make it work. After some slightly erratic behavior however, Anna informs Mark that she’s been seeing someone else, a man named Heinrich (Heinz Bennent, “The Last Metro”), for a while now. Mark acts irrationally and tells Anna he never wants to see her again. After drinking himself silly for three weeks, Mark comes up out of a haze and returns to his wife’s apartment with plans of professing his love and making her come back to him, but when he arrives at the apartment, he finds that their child has been left alone for days. When Anna returns, she begins acting even more strangely than before. Eventually, Mark hires an investigator to follow Anna to see what she’s really up to, only to find that things are much darker than they originally seemed.
First off, I want to mention that it was absolutely brilliant to film this movie in Berlin when the wall was still up. It’s incredibly symbolic of the divide felt within Anna herself, but also between Anna and Mark’s marriage. The dilapidation of the city, and many of the locations where this film takes place are indicative of both the state of their marriage and the state of their mental health. A lot of the locations seem to degrade over the course of the film, again, much like the state of the characters’ minds as the story progress. A lot of the set design and themes reminded me greatly of Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy (“Repulsion”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, “The Tenant”). All of the films deal with feeling of paranoia and characters that behave schismatically. There are also moments in all the films that make the characters feel claustrophobically isolated from other people when they lock themselves in their apartments.
I think my favorite part about the film is the writing. This film is a prime example of a movie that knows how to subvert your expectations. Every time you think you might know the direction this story is headed, the movie switches on you in the most devious ways possible. The dialogue, for the most part, is relatively grounded and believable, though there are a few scenes when characters soliloquy for a while without any real reason to, and those scenes feel a little out of place. At the beginning of the film, both characters seem rather normal, but by the thirty-minute mark, both characters have done things that make them unlikeable. Both Anna and Mark are rather bipolar, even before things start to get really weird. They are characters that you are compelled to watch, not because you can sympathize with them, but because their relationship is fascinating. It’s impossible to look away, in the same way that a flaming car wreck is impossible to turn away from; it’s disturbing and violent, yet you need to know what happens next. The violence in this movie is sudden and jarring, and, like the character changes, are shocking and come out of nowhere. The film always keeps you on your toes, and it revels in the unsettled atmosphere it creates.
Perhaps the most impressive thing overall is Isabelle Adjani. She is amazingly versatile as Anna (and Helen). This role must’ve been incredibly demanding, both physically and mentally. There is one scene in particular where Anna has (for lack of a better word) a meltdown in a hallway leading to the subways, and that scene is absolutely haunting. I get chills thinking about it even now. The way that Isabelle throws her body about like a rag doll, all in one continuous take, is absolutely incredible. The scene is grotesquely disquieting, but the amount of physicality needed to pull off that scene is unbelievable. Sam Neil does a really good job, for the most part. Near the beginning of the film I found some of his outbursts to be a little awkwardly delivered, but I always found his nervous performances to be really well done. Heinz Bennent, who plays Heinrich, tends to overact a bit. There’s a scene where he comes to one of the apartments drunk (I think?) and that felt so overacted I wondered if Heinz had ever had a drink before. Isabelle easily stole the show, though, and her performance made up for any qualms I had with the others in this movie.
This movie is pretty great. It’s horrific and unpredictable, and best of all; it has something intelligent to say. The film is elevated by its amazing performances (particularly by Adjani), some great locations, subtle symbolism, and some truly disturbing moments. If you’re into horror films, this one is certainly a gem.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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