A young American and his English wife move to the wife’s hometown, only to face harassment from the locals.
What does a man do when his wife, his life, and his home are threatened? Does he give in and let horrible things happen, or does he stand his ground and fight? This movie shows Dustin Hoffman’s (“Midnight Cowboy”) more brutal side; it’s a character study about a young married couple finding their breaking point, and it’s not at all an easy watch. This picture is perhaps best known for the extremely controversial rape scene that lasts just under ten minutes. It’s one of the more disturbing scenes I’ve seen played out on screen, and the reputation this film has garnered because of that scene is absolutely grounded. It’s vile and uncomfortable, and the length makes it feel like it goes on forever. What’s worse is Amy (Susan George, “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry”) has flashbacks of the rape throughout the rest of the film, keeping the viewer constantly on edge and tense. Though the rape scene is what this movie is most known for, the film is far more than that. This movie is not at all a light watch, nor would I call it a fun watch, but it does have one of the most satisfying endings I’ve seen in quite some time. Due to the controversial nature of that one scene, however, I feel like I have to throw a trigger warning on this review. Do not watch this film if you are easily disturbed by scenes like the one I mentioned above; I can guarantee you will not enjoy this film. However, if you think you can stomach it, this film is a brilliant work of tension building, unlikeable characters, and an absolutely brutal finale.
"I will not allow violence against this house."
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
When the picture opens, American David Sumner and his British wife, Amy, have just moved back to Amy’s hometown. David has received a grant that will allow him to work remotely for at least the next year, and the two of them decided to move to country where they expect peace and quiet. Amy runs into Charlie Venner (Del Henney), an old boyfriend who seems to still have feelings for her. Amy brushes off Charlie’s advances, saying she’s married, but Charlie seems not to care. As the story goes on, Charlie and his friends begin to harass the couple in increasingly disturbing ways.
The first thing I really liked about this film was the writing and the characters. Every character has some unique qualities about them, and they feel like they all belong to this small little community where everybody knows each other. It’s a town where the policeman and the local drunk both know each other well, and both can shout open threats across a bar without any fear of either one doing anything overly terrible. But though the people in the town know each other well, there is an underlying layer of filth that runs through the town. Many of the local characters feel seedy and grungy; one character in particular has a mental handicap, and it’s implied that he’s been caught fooling around with younger girls before. Other characters steal things and brag about them, voyeuristically watch others through windows, or play cruel tricks on one another. The world that Peckinpah has crafted feels dirty from the beginning, and this is before the real rough stuff even begins. But while the characters of the town set the world, David and Amy are just as interesting. David’s character has a darker side to him as well, though we don’t fully see his violent nature until the later half of the movie. But throughout the film, we see little micro-aggressions that he has against some of the other characters, including his wife. He’s a character that, though he behaves kindly for most of the film, and sometimes he’s even cowardly, we can tell he has an anger inside, deep down. When that anger is later explored, we find David almost seems to like it, and that is a little frightening to both Amy and himself. Amy’s character is incredibly interesting too. She behaves almost like a child, and that point is brought up multiple times throughout this movie. She messes with her husbands work on the chalkboard, pouts when he doesn’t have time for her, and behaves, overall, like a schoolgirl with a crush on her husband. (SOME SPOILERS) However, what really makes Amy a more compelling character is her initial reaction to the rape. Again, this film is primarily known for this scene because it was so controversial. About halfway through the film, Charlie breaks into Amy and David’s house and begins to rape Amy. At first she resists, and then she seems to be enjoying it. It’s MESSED UP. I truly did not feel comfortable watching the scene at all, but it adds another whole level to Amy’s character. As the rape goes on, and someone else actually joins in, her apparent pleasure is lost, but her initial response is haunting and grotesque. (SPOILERS END)
Another great thing about this film is the editing. The first half of the film is a pretty straightforward drama and the editing is rather slow. The movie is paced in a way that makes the whole thing feel foreboding. Even when nothing horrible has happened yet, it feels like something bad is just around the corner. But while the first half is a brilliant snapshot of how to build tension, it’s in the second half of the film that the editing starts to go haywire. The editing in the second half of the film is frenetic and eccentric; as characters start to go up against each other, we cut quickly from one to the next, never really stopping to catch our breath. It ramps up tension quickly and continues to build until the brutal finale. The music adds to this tension as well; a lot of times the music is just foreboding and brooding, but other times its exciting and fast paced.
Though this film is not at all an easy watch, it is a film that showcases an amazing ability to build and maintain tension over a long period of time. It’s filled with fantastic performances and it’s got an incredible finale. The movie is controversial, and it deserves that reputation. I cannot recommend this film to everyone, in fact I’d urge some people to stay away from it, but for those that can push through the rough bits, the ending is absolutely worth it.
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