Roman Polanski films are always interesting, even if they aren’t always what someone is looking to see. His plots are unusual and sometimes hard to undertake, but in many instances a Roman Polanski movie will leave a lasting impression upon its viewer for the rest of their lives. Repulsion (1965) is exactly that kind of film.
Carol (Catherine Deneuve) is a young woman with a troubled past. For some unexplained reason, she is extremely afraid of men being close to her or desiring her sexually. She works at a beauty salon in London, and lives in a nearby apartment with her sister, Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). At first, Carol seems annoyed by the frequency that Helen’s boyfriend, Michael (Ian Hendrx), stays at their apartment, but after a while it becomes obvious that she is not just repulsed by him, but repulsed by all men. A young pursuing admirer, Colin (John Fraser), tries repeatedly to take Carol out, but she never seems to want to spend time with him either.
When Helen and Michael decide to take a vacation to Italy, Carol’s troubles begin to increase. At first she has trouble focusing at work, but soon she refuses to leave the apartment entirely. She forgets to pay the rent, leaves food out to rot, begins hallucinating that there are hands coming out of the walls to attack her, and repeatedly dreams about being raped, in what appears to be connected to a memory from her past. She even pictures large cracks in the walls of the apartment that continue to grow as she herself continues to collapse mentally. All of her problems and fears culminate when she begins to receive visitors (including previously mentioned, and still unwanted Colin), who have come to check on her. They come to her out of concern, but are putting themselves at the mercy of a woman who has already lost control of herself.
As the director for Repulsion, Roman Polanski is technically brilliant. Filmed in glorious black and white, with magnificent set designs and wonderful cinematography, Repulsion could teach an aspiring filmmaker all the do’s and don’ts of putting a horror movie together. It was his first English language film, and helped (along with 1962’s Knife In The Water) establish Polanski as one of the most promising, up and coming directors in the world. Repulsion is unlike most horror films of the 1960’s. Although it is obvious to see many of Polanski’s influences, Repulsion stands out as a landmark in the psychological thriller genre. Because Carol has an emotionally disturbed past, we feel sorry for her and her life, but when she becomes violent and uncontrollable, the audience (as well as those around her) don’t understand what is happening. She is actually much scarier than other horror characters because she is so unpredictable within her nightmarish fantasy world.
Unlike many horror films that rely heavily on an overwhelming musical score, Repulsion uses silence to show Carol as an inaccessible and alone person. The sounds from neighboring apartments, as well as the cathedral next door, fill Carol’s apartment, convincing the audience, and Carol, of her complete aloneness. Even the music has left her world and been replaced by noise and background sounds. This proves to be an effective tool to create a more personal and isolated feeling.
Catherine Deneuve gives an amazingly intense performance in this film. She seems overwhelmingly troubled and disturbingly calm at the same time. Her demeanor allows the audience to wait in suspenseful anticipation of what will happen next. She becomes increasingly more panicked and jittery as the film moves along, and this makes her even more nerve racking and unpredictable. Deneuve does all of this in a way that makes me afraid for her mental stability, as well as that of the character she plays.
Like I said before, this film is a different kind of horror film that isn’t filled with cheap thrills. It gets into your head and catapults you into her thoroughly unsettling world. Repulsion has gone on to inspire many filmmakers of future generations, including the 2010 Best Picture nominee Black Swan, where there are astonishing similarities in the mental state between Natalie Portman’s character and that of Deneuve’s character in Repulsion. I have heard many viewers comment on the obvious path that the plot of Repulsion has, but I don’t think Polanski was looking for a surprise ending on this film. It is all right that we know what is happening to her because the movie is more about us understanding Carol than us figuring out the “whys” of her life.Back to Home for More Reviews