Horror fans feel a sense of nostalgia when thinking about older films. We feel like the best times are behind us and there are no modern horror films that can rival the great ones of the past. Repulsion is one of those old, great films, but to say it is great because it is old would be a huge mistake. Sometimes we get caught up in the golden years, but even today when watching Repulsion it is brilliant and masterful. While there may be a battle between what was great and what still is great, there is no denying the fact that this film isn’t affected by time.
The story revolves around Carol Ledoux (Catherine Deneuve), a Belgian manicurist who lives in London with her sister. From the beginning the viewer can tell that Carol is a little bit off. She is constantly paranoid and is incredibly shy and timid around men. When her sister goes away to Italy for a week with her lover, Carol’s world crumbles around her.
The story itself is elegant and focuses heavily on the mental state of an individual. Major themes include isolation, childhood trauma, and feminism. None of these themes are loud. Instead they are very subtle. The narrative of the story is incredibly paced and as time flows the viewer is treated to more and more of the character's point of view. You genuinely feel for Carol and it is terrifying how she feels. There is an incredible amount of sympathy, but Roman Polanski’s ability to put you into the eyes of Carol makes the experience incredibly unnerving. I have never watched a film that so perfectly made you feel like the main character.
As you hang on to Carol’s last bits of sanity, hoping she doesn’t spiral more and more out of control, you are treated to incredible music and camera angles. When Carol is outside, there is upbeat jazz music playing. This makes the outside world seem so hectic and exciting. When Carol is inside her apartment, there are sounds of decay or complete silence. Flies buzzing, walls cracking, and water dripping. These are the sounds of death and isolation. Polanski also has the ability to make Carol’s apartment seem both small and large. One second you feel claustrophobic, the next the apartment is so large you find yourself terrified of what’s around the corner.
This film also boasts the best acting by a female lead in a horror movie I have ever seen. At first Carol is catatonic and frustratingly shy. As time transpires and she begins breaking apart, you can see the fear in her eyes and you genuinely feel for her. By the end, there are sinister smiles and laughs that will stay with the viewer for a very long time.
Of course, if Carol were randomly breaking apart for no apparent reason, the viewer wouldn’t have as much sympathy for her. The story telling is enigmatic, but strong enough to let the viewer understand why Carol is the way she is. Her inability to speak with men and her horrible nightmares involving molestation and touching let the viewer know that Carol has experiences with sexual trauma. The scenes depicting sexual violence aren’t overt and graphic, instead there is absolutely no music. Watching Carol silently scream and gasp for air is more terrifying than even the most graphic horror scenes.
When the viewer feels a strong connection to the main character and is treated to complicated themes and masterful cinematography, it is an incredible experience for everyone involved. Furthermore, the film is simply terrifying in a way that you will never forget the movie. When you have a film that focuses on the human psyche and the fears we all have, but can control, it is completely timeless. In the end, Repulsion is the perfect film for any horror fan no matter what year it is.
If you liked Repulsion, you might also like Psycho.