Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser
Director: Roman Polanski
Running Time: 105 mins
Repulsion is a British film about a woman with a phobia of interacting with men who locks herself away in a small West London apartment after her sister and flatmate goes on holiday, only to initiate a devastating and horrifying descent into madness.
This film is lauded as a classic of the psychological horror genre, but to survive the experience of watching it AND appreciate Polanski’s genius work requires extreme stamina and mental strength, which I unfortunately couldn’t quite muster up. I do recognise the brilliance of Polanski’s directing, but Repulsion is such a painfully slow and quiet film that didn’t always have the same effect in building tension as it did in creating pure horror.
Let’s start with the best part of the movie, Roman Polanski’s directing. Put simply, this is one of the most atmospheric and eerie films I’ve ever seen, playing on the low budget look with grainy black and white imagery and total silence for long sustained periods in a tiny setting, as well as some amazingly intense long takes that all contribute to make this film such a exhausting watch.
In that, Repulsion is a great success. Right from the first frame, everything about this film just made me feel ill, downbeat and depressed, and the fact that the film unabatedly continues to escalate the eeriness and nightmarish horror (and believe me, there are some truly horrific and graphic sequences that will play tricks with your mind) is the reason that you need so to put so much effort and determination into watching it, because it never plays nice.
Beyond the directing, there were some other positives for me in this film. For one, Catherine Deneuve’s acting is impressive. It may not seem like she’s doing much, but there wasn’t a moment that I didn’t believe that she wasn’t truly crippled by this terrible phobia, and that she wasn’t descending into the darkest depths of insanity, which is exactly what the point of her performance was.
The issues that I have with this film, however, rest in its pacing and story development. As I’ve said, the film is deliberately dark and painful to watch. Sometimes, that can be a really good thing (take Requiem For A Dream for example), but sometimes, when there’s too much ambiguity and excessive psychological horror, and it’s not complemented by a well-paced story, watching the film can be an astonishingly exhausting endeavour.
I’m not saying these sorts of films have to be fast-paced and over-explained, but my problem with Repulsion is that it lays in the doldrums of snail-paced dark ambiguity for the best part of 80 minutes, very rarely presenting anything other than watching a woman very slowly lose her mind, and then only gives a pay-off in the last 20 minutes. I’m not denying that the final act is pretty staggering, but the extreme effort and stamina that I needed to get there just didn’t feel worth it in the end, and that’s why Repulsion gets a 7.2 from me.