Thursday, 21 January 2010

Audrey Rose

1977
Dir. Robert Wise

Janice and Bill Templeton (Marsha Mason and John Beck), an affluent middle class couple living in New York, look on helplessly as their comfortable existence is shattered when the mysterious and charismatic Elliot Hoover (Anthony Hopkins) enters their lives. He declares that their daughter Ivy (Susan Swift) is actually the reincarnation of his dead daughter Audrey Rose. Is he telling the truth? Or is he a raving psychotic they should cross the street to avoid? When Ivy begins to experience weird seizures and hallucinations, the couple have no choice but to accept the help of Hoover and the family are plunged into a nightmare they may never wake up from…

Director Robert Wise began his eclectic career as an editor for RKO. He was given his big break by producer Val Lewton directing the poetic horror sequel The Curse of the Cat People – more a sensitive study of child psychology than an out and out horror flick. Wise would return to the horror arena again with titles such as The Body Snatcher and his startlingly atmospheric Lewton homage The Haunting – another testament to how effective the ‘less is more’ approach to horror can be. Not one to rest on his laurels, Wise preferred to span the genres, making his mark with a wide range of titles such as The Sound of Music, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Towards the end of his career he returned to horror once again, with the markedly less effective Audrey Rose.

Beginning intriguingly enough, Audrey Rose opens with a shocking car crash in which a little girl is killed. From this point on a couple of parallels with Don’t Look Now can be drawn – both films open with the death of a young girl and the remainder of the film charts the varying attempts of a parent to get over this death, all the while suspecting their dead child is attempting to contact them somehow from beyond death. Here the similarities end. Audrey Rose initially unravels as a mysterious stranger stalks a young family – the beardy-weirdy Hoover is seemingly obsessed with their daughter Ivy. This seems to coincide with Ivy experiencing some very weird shit indeed – distressing dreams and seizures during which she believes she is burning to death. As the tension mounts and the intrigue continues to swirl throughout proceedings, the film switches gear as the bizarre Hoover invites the Templeton’s to dinner and explains that he believes their daughter is the reincarnation of his daughter. They are obviously sceptical and warn him to stay away – some of the looks exchanged over this particular dinner table are priceless. However certain events happen that force Janice to ask Hoover for his help, and so begins another segment of the film – the ongoing debate about whether or not reincarnation is real. The old religion vs. science vs. spirituality arguments are dragged out and dusted off, as are the ‘who am I and what is my life for’ ponderings and verbally flung about the screen by all involved as they act their faces off.

The film is peppered with a few memorable moments and images, such as the scenes in which Ivy flings herself violently around the rather nicely lit apartment as we watch from outside through the rain dappled windows. During one of her attacks, she ‘burns’ her hands on a cold window. Another mind-boggling though admittedly striking scene features a group of school girls dancing around a giant snowman they’ve just set fire to as an entranced Ivy crawls slowly towards the flames…

When Hoover kidnaps Ivy, the film - which began as a creepy tale about the potentially unsettling nature of reincarnation and a father’s irrepressible grief - does another u-turn and plunges headlong into a semi-ridiculous and melodramatic courtroom drama.

Anthony Hopkins is no stranger to horror – two years after this film, he would go on to star in the chilling ventriloquist-dummy horror Magic and then lock horns with Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, via some little film or other about a transsexual serial killer and some quiet baby sheep. While Audrey Rose is a dreadfully uneven film, Hopkins – on the most part – remains the most mesmerising aspect of it. When he is onscreen he commands attention. His sinisterly calm demeanour cracks at various intervals to allow us to peek into the fragile and damaged soul of a man who never got over the death of his daughter and remains locked in a heart-wrenching cycle as he searches the world for her – or rather, for whoever she now lives again within. Aside from one or two rather ‘thespiany’ scenes in which Hopkins locks eyebrows with anyone else in the general vicinity and tries to emulate Bela Lugosi with the overuse of his hands, his performance is nuanced and suitably anxious. The rest of the cast deliver performances that range from consistent to downright annoying.

The most resonant thing about the film is its depiction of the misery, perpetual longing and heartache of Elliot Hoover as he desperately tries to reunite with his dead daughter. The notion that our lives are governed by ‘greater forces’ we have no hope of ever comprehending is also successfully evoked throughout the film. The downbeat ending that tries to assure us that Hoover hasn’t given up hope, just ensures events are left on cold note, and for all the emoting onscreen, Audrey Rose is a strangely unfeeling film, and one that despite its seemingly positive message about life, death and reincarnation, was too uneven, bereft of suspense and much too distancing to make any sort of impact. While at times it was thought provoking, it was way too dry and overwrought. The 'tragic' death that occurs at the end of the film, and the fact that it was brought about through utter incompetence, isn't softened any by the idea that Ivy will be reincarnated again... And what of Audrey Rose? Is her soul to be entwined with that of Ivy's for all time? Yes, ambiguity is good - but gaping plot holes posing as ambiguity is not! This might warrant another viewing sometime in the future, but not for a while yet.

10 comments:

Wings said...

With Hopkins performance, I might rent this one. Might leave it in the queue for awhile, though.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Saw this one a while back, but didnt love it. The idea of the guy obsessed with the idea that Audrey Rose had reincarnated in the body of somebody elses child was interesting, but what was he planning on doing?

Robbing other people of their child? So his child is now reincarnated on another child in another country, so now he is going to that country? Just let it go man! Death is a part of life!

Also, why did those nuns let those little kids light that fire like that??

But I enjoyed the peformances, and the little girl has her moments, like the one where she is looking at herself in the mirror and trying to talk to Audrey Rose.

James said...

Yes Wings, I'd leave it in the queue for a bit... Unless you are huge fan of Mr Hopkins. Even then, I'd check out Magic to see him at his best.

Agreed Connoisseur, that ritual with the snowman looked positively Pagan! What gives? And the bit where Ivy is looking at herself in the mirror and trying to talk to Audrey Rose was another pretty cool moment in an otherwise pretty lacklustre film.

Thanks for stopping by guys. ;o)

Wings said...

I have seen MAGIC, he was quite creepy in that one!

Guillaume said...

Saw this one a long time ago and i remember liking it very much,i would like to see it again!

"

"From this point on a couple of parallels with Don’t Look Now can be drawn – both films open with the death of a young girl and the remainder of the film charts the varying attempts of a parent to get over this death, all the while suspecting their dead child is attempting to contact them somehow from beyond death."


It reminds me the subject of one of my favorite movies ever,the sadly forgotten FULL CIRCLE/THE HAUNTING OF JULIA,from director Richard Loncraine.

dleighmiad said...

In 1977, the year Audrey Rose came out in theaters, the book it was based on was re-released to coincide with the movie. I was a kid at the time and one day I was at the grocery store with my mother and noticed the book for sale at the check-out line. The cover scared the bejeesus out of me and I refused to go back to the grocery store for about a month. I saw Audrey Rose a few years later---turns out the book cover was more scary (and interesting)than the movie.

merricat said...

My parents were obsessed with this movie and the book when I was a kid. dleighmiad was right - the whole thing was a recipe for kindertrauma.

James said...

Great story dleighmiad! Thanks for stopping by.

James said...

Merricat thanks also for stopping by - agreed - creepy book covers that turn out to be way better than the films that are based on them are recipes for much kindertrauma. Cool avatar - is that from Schock? I just watched that recently again. Great film.

Anonymous said...

I saw this movie as a child and I thoroughly enjoyed it -mostly for provoking thoughts on reincarnation and for certain scenes from the movie that have stuck in my brain all these years. I have always wanted to see this movie again. Perhaps it is time.