Hey, how 'bout that? It's Roman Polanski again. I'll temporarily ignore my nagging inability to reckon with my feelings about his art, vis–à–vis his sleaziness, in order to share with you my thoughts on his second feature-length film—and his first in English—Repulsion. This is what I would call a 'soft horror' film—which isn't to say that it's weak or ineffective, but only that it doesn't get all up in your face and shout, 'Look at me! I am a horror film, bitch!' It's certainly a lot subtler and more minimalist than the typical films we associate with the genre—but that sure as hell doesn't mean it didn't freak me the fuck out a few times. Similar to Miike's Audition, Repulsion lulls you into a (false) complacency. You think you know what kind of movie you're dealing with—an arty character study—and then Polanski sneaks up and gives you a wet willie. (He also gives drugged thirteen-year-old girls wet willies, but that's another story altogether...)
Repulsion features Catherine Deneuve as Carol Ledoux, who may very well be the poster girl for sexual maladjustment and repression. She lives in London with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux of Fellini's La Dolce Vita), a standard French sexpot who spends her nights (loudly) moaning in ecstasy with her married boyfriend in the bedroom next door—further exacerbating Carol's fear and loathing of the sexual act.
Carol enjoys the polite (albeit unwanted) attentions of a would-be suitor named Colin, with whom she shares some of the most awkward, catatonic exchanges in the history of cinema. Carol would definitely take the gold in the Frigid Olympics, with Martha Stewart coming in a distant second. When people speak to her, she mostly stares into space vacantly and doesn't respond—or if she's feeling particularly chatty, she might say, 'I daunt gnaw' [i.e., 'I don't know' in her thick French accent]. When Colin asks her out, she can't even muster up the psychological wherewithal to refuse; she just stands there—a squirrel waiting to meet the grille of an oncoming Pontiac Grand Am. (Will somebody please get this woman a motherfucking SSRI?)
One day Helen decides to take a trip to Italy with her boyfriend—thus depriving Carol of the one and only remaining link she has to reality. Not good. If you thought Carol was a paranoid and depressed weirdo before, you ain't seen nothin' yet, friends. She suddenly starts experiencing disturbing hallucinations, she stops going to work, and she decides to carry a decomposing rabbit's head around in her handbag. Occasionally, when she's feeling peppy, she'll wander the streets of London, zombie-like, batting her finger across the side of her nose the way batshit-crazy people do.
Obviously the bitch is off her proverbial rocker, and soon her bizarre actions take an even darker turn, as she attempts to barricade her entire world against the male sex. We spend most of the film trapped with her inside her apartment and inside her mind—so that in the end we, like Carol, are unable to determine exactly what's imagined and what's actually happening. It's paranoia-a-go-go. Eventually you just want to go up to Carol and shake her out of her maddening stupor and take her to Chili's or Outback for an appetizer. She really needs a margarita or something.
Earlier I described Repulsion as a soft horror film—but I have to say... this film provided a few of the biggest scares of the Halloween Film Fest thus far. It's not chock-full of freak outs by any means, but when it decides to get creepy, it doesn't mess around.