A lonely woman caring for her domineering father is pushed to the brink when a figure from her past re-enters her life.
Sean H. Stewart
Elisabeth Shue was receiving rave reviews for her eventual Oscar-nominated performance in Leaving Las Vegas.
I’d loved her work for many years and when the Academy took notice of her role as the hooker with the heart of gold, I was beside myself with some sort of weird pride. After all, I’d adored her since she was Ralph Macchio’s love interest in the original The Karate Kid.
The quote was something along the lines of Shue’s performance being a “career-defining revelation”. I don’t recall the exact quote or who said those words, but this cinema memory came out of the dusty depths of my brain – when I today watched a screener of Thommy Hutson’s superb The Id.
And who should I be comparing Shue’s revelatory performance to? None other than Amanda Wyss.
Yes, we’ve adored her for years because of her cult performances in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street as Freddy Krueger’s first on-screen victim, or as Lane Meyer’s shallow girlfriend Beth in the comedy classic, Better Off Dead.
Now, I know she’s had a long career, but I have personally never seen any of her work in an actual lead performance. And my big question is, what have I been missing?
Well, now I know.
But first… The Id is a psychological thriller which follows Meridith (Wyss) – a 40-something who has never left the nest. She’s been caring for her verbally abusive and practically invalid father (gloriously played by Patrick Peduto) for the past many years. Her mother is long absent and any dreams Meridith had for a normal life of love and happiness, are long gone. But with the re-introduction of Ted (Malcolm Matthews) a long ago lover from her high school prom (whom Meridith has obsessed over – lo these many years), bitter resentment towards her father is brought to the surface and Meridith must deal with the stirrings of paranoid hallucinations, anger, depression and hard leanings toward violence.
Wyss delivers what will no doubt become an iconic and talked-about performance. I hope the film finds a large audience, and if I can help to make that happen – then so be it. Meridith is so totally damaged, and Wyss hits every single moment with pure and raw emotion. It is such a heart-breaking and heart-wrenching performance, you’ll have to wonder to what emotional depths Wyss had to dig in order to bring such richness and awful, awful pain to Meridith. Obviously, the writing has a lot to do with this rousing success – as Meridith carries so much baggage – but Wyss runs with it. She keeps Meridith trapped in her adolescence – and it is so beautifully captured when Meridith has her first – very nervous – phone call with Ted. Her voice raises and her fingers twiddle about with the phone cord.
On the other hand, the frightening places she goes in moments where she insists to her father that she’s going to go out with Ted; showcases Meridith’s very uneasy confidence. Or the moment where she sits on the bathroom floor – tears flowing – as she repeats over and over – the words barely coming out, “I’m sorry”. As long as this diatribe over Wyss’ performance is – I really am having a tough time finding the right words to express my admiration, respect and – as I said for Shue above – my “sort of weird pride” when describing Wyss’ work here. How about this… WOW.
Matching Meridith’s perfectly-illustrated trap is the film’s production design. The house she shares with her father has never left the ‘80s. Everything is dated and worn – and it keeps things consistent with Meridith’s deteriorating state of mind. And you’ll notice the (just subtle enough) motif of birdcages. Nicely done.
The film manages to create a prominent unease for the majority of its running time. The remarkable thing about that is, that you’re given a buffet of different types of awkwardness (depending on the scene) to try and process. Yes, there’s the horrific verbal abuse thrown at Meridith, and the sadness of her isolation, but when Ted wants to reconnect with a visit to the house – well, it was stunning how much pity you felt for Meridith as she prepared for his arrival by setting a sad table – including squeeze-cheese in the shapes of hearts on some Ritz crackers. I don’t know what it was about this moment, but it absolutely shredded my heart.
There’s also the powerful sadness as Meridith dons her prom gown – in time for Ted to arrive. Watch Wyss’ amazing non-verbal response as she sees how different Ted now looks – and that Ted has brought someone else with him. And finally, another visit in the same day creates great suspense as Meridith takes these new “guests” for an extended tour of the house in the film’s climax.
The most amazing thing about The Id (other than Wyss’ performance) is the strange sense of familiarity the film brings up in the audience. We all have parents. We all have those very real thoughts of “when does the parent become the child and the child become the parent?” The matters of guilt and the issues of despair, as you watch a beloved (or in this case – abusive) parent descend into the throes of disease – are so prominent and so difficult to face in The Id.
On top of these true-life fears this film so easily captures how so many of our high school friends or acquaintances never left their hometown, or even their homes. In the case of Meridith, she never escaped and so she never grew. Her bedroom is the same as it was so many years ago, and the fact that the film nails all of this, is a testament to the power of the script (by Sean H. Stewart), the spot-on production design and the direction of Hutson.
Sadly, the film does have some pacing issues. It is of course a slow burn, as we must witness the decline of Meridith’s mind and her (cliché term) descent into madness, but I felt like some of the sequences could have been tightened. The slight lulls in the story were a distraction.
The film’s oppressive mood and the painful situations the audience must endure while screening The Id; are nothing compared to the work of Amanda Wyss in the lead role. “A career-defining revelation” pretty much sums it up. So thanks to that critic from 20 or so years ago – who I’m probably misquoting. If I knew who you were, I’d give you some sort of credit.
Fun bit of trivia: fellow A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise alum Tuesday Knight; provides the ‘80s-era songs for the flashbacks to Meridith’s prom night.
The Id is now available on Blu-Ray/VOD. It is not to be missed!