Roman Polanski and Gerard Brach
Catherine Deneuve as Carole
Ian Hendry as Michael
Yvonne Furneaux as Helen
Carole (Catherine Deneuve) is a beautiful young virgin who prefers the quiet life. She lives with her sister, Helen (Yvonne Furneaux), in a non-descript London flat and works in a day spa. Dreadfully shy, Carole shuns all advances. Yet Helen’s recently acquired beau stirs up unusual feelings towards the opposite sex. When Helen goes on holiday with him for several weeks, Carole is left to her own devices, which turn both self-destructive and deadly.
Roman Polanski’s first English language film, this black and white gem is a foray into the world of someone becoming unhinged and the inevitable consequences to those around them. Repulsion is a hybrid – combining the effects of psychological horror with traditional hauntings and sneaking in a slasher scene worthy of Norman Bates.
One turn off for some who watch Repulsion may be the mood-establishing build-up. There is not much action for the first hour, but the slow scenes are integral to the plot and help to involve the audience in Carole’s loosening grip on reality. Her changing interactions with her sister, co-workers and men as she withdraws into herself are expertly crafted in the finest story-telling tradition. If you have a short attention span, hang in there and pay attention. You won’t be disappointed.
Helping you along the way are unusual camera angles and close-ups that further enhance the feeling of isolation, as Carole’s world at once shrinks and spins out of control. The scenes are raw and lack any attempt to soften the natural discomfort, or uneasiness the viewer feels. Most of the time the viewer is left to watch her in isolation – in a world made up of the sounds of her simple gestures and discordant city noise. There is little music, yet the choice and timing of it punctuates the deranged mood.
However, she is sympathetic. Even in the midst of her very brutal killings her actions are not particularly repulsive. Perhaps it is difficult for a smoking hot sixties chick to alienate an audience, or perhaps her delusions of rape softens judgment of her eventual actions. I side with a third explanation: The trip Roman Polanski takes viewers into her rapidly declining mind is almost too close to reality. We don’t want to hate her because we don’t want to hate what we may become if a mental sparkplug misfires. Maybe I’m nearer to the edge of sanity than most, but one of the ingenious (and disturbing) aspects of the film is how close the viewer is meant to feel to her own sensibility.
Repulsion is a forerunner to contemporary psychological horror and gritty independent pieces, depicted in such films as Rosemary’s Baby and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, respectively. It’s also a harbinger of Roman Polanski films to come – heavy on the sexual innuendo.
It is impressive how advanced the film is for a 1960s release, and the entertainment value will not disappoint. Even almost 50 years after its release Repulsion’s brilliance has stood the test of time.