Genre: Drama, Horror
Director: Roman Polanski
Music: Chico Hamilton
Cinematography: Gilbert Taylor
The fact that today’s viewers are inured to assess Polanski’s body of work with a pinch of salt due to his allegedly marred moral standing, which by the same token can be also applied to Woody Allen, among others. What is cut-and-dried is that Polanski is a blamed talented filmmaker, underpinned here by his second feature, REPULSION, a UK-backed psychological horror about a young Belgian manicurist Carol (Deneuve) living in London with her sister Helen (Furneaux), is bedeviled by her mortal dislike of man’s sexual advance and rape paranoia, will soon descend into psychosis and turn murderous when she is left in their apartment alone.
Molding a delectable Catherine Deneuve into this withdrawn, frigid, disengaged persona prima facie, then obsessively ogling her walking on the street à la cinéma-vérité, Polanski is quite up on projecting a straight male gaze to elicit a paradoxical feeling, one might feel both allured and dreaded. Upping the ante later in the narrative with his peculiar use of wide-angle lens, when Carol’s downward spiral into an out-and-out psycho becomes ineluctable, Polanski incredibly creates an uncanny anamorphic spaciousness within the claustrophobic location, joined by Carol’s deep dish crack-phobia (a metaphor tickles one’s imagination) and horrific rape hallucination (disembodied hands reaching out from the walls), all are synchronized with either Chico Hamilton’s perturbing score or foley artists’ cunning signposts (the monotonous clock ticking and what the sound of nunnery’s bell heralds), REPULSION comes off as a textbook exemplar of low-budget horror production even before the slash spree commences.
Accentuated by the black-and-white coldness, Deneuve sinks her teeth into a role which will define her most iconic screen image, disassociated from the reality, mired in moldering stagnation, and on top of everything, her brilliant containment in the face of aggravating hallucinations. In the supporting department, Yvonne Furneaux, making for a presence combined with sisterly irritation and motherly affection, holds the accountability for not discerning Carol’s mental anomaly; Ian Hendry, as Michael, Helen’s married boyfriend, puts on a creepy smile in the end, uncannily letting on his own creepier Freudian slip; a spiffy John Fraser could be any girl’s dreamboat, only he is doomed for chasing a rainbow; finally Patrick Wymark leaves some splash as the lecherous landlord, the ultimate humbug to justify the film’s unusual misandry atmospherics.
referential entries: Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968, 7.4/10), KNIFE IN THE WATER (1962, 7.5/10).