Did you know Rosemary’s Baby is part of a trilogy? Okay, not exactly; there’s no Further Adventures of Rosemary and Her Antichrist Baby (though there’s an ingenious viral video somewhere in that idea.) Instead, three of director Roman Polanski’s films have long been considered something of an “Apartment Trilogy,” bonded by common themes of people suffering paranoia and anxiety as they deal with living in the cramped spaces of big city apartments. Repulsion (1965) is the first of these films; Rosemary’s Baby followed three films later in 1968, and the David Lynch-precursor The Tenant was released in 1976. While all three films have their own specific appeals, Repulsion might be the one that appeals most to cinephiles, a black-and-white art film that uses basic sights and sounds to work your every last nerve, lead by a fresh-faced, oft-sighing French girl (Catherine Deneuve) for good measure.
At this point, you can probably already tell if Repulsion is going to test you in the good or bad kind of way, but if you’re curious about the narrative, there’s not a whole lot to know. Carol is a young, French manicurist, living in London with her sister, Helen. Carol is shy, nervous around men, anxious at work, passive in her relationship with her sister. She’s one of those people who is barely there to begin with, so when her world gets shaken up – her sister leaves town, men get aggressive with her, work becomes stressful – she becomes unstable. The apartment she and her sister live cracks up all around her, and disturbing figures break into her home to take advantage of her. Whether or not any of this is “real” or all in Carol’s head isn’t the point (is it ever?) The question is how much can the world around Carol continue to break down before it takes her with it.
Repulsion is a low-budget 60’s art film, so don’t expect to see these ideas addressed in straightforward ways. The film is largely, and unnervingly, absent of most sound. Most of what you here is Carol’s breathy sighs, angry people berating her, and the rattling shrieks of a minimalist score whenever things are at their worst. Hand-held cameras follow Carol around the city and into the tight, claustrophobic nooks of her apartment. The special effects are basic but effective, as cracks in the wall and ominous shadows invade Carol’s space. It’s less about narrative and all about unsettling the viewer, far more stripped down than Polanski’s later films. For me, it falls in the middle of this trilogy, weirder and more disconcerting than Rosemary’s Baby , but not as surreal and scary as The Tenant. But if you’re one for slow, moody, artsy horror, and Polanski has already proven he can freak you out with small spaces in big cities, Repulsion is just waiting to get under your skin.
Josh has studied film at the Universities of Missouri and Florida, and he is currently studying horror film and popular culture in the Communication and Culture program at Indiana University. He has previously worked with the True/False Documentary Film Festival and the Ragtag Theatre in Columbia, Missouri, and he served as short-term production assistant on This Film Is Not Yet Rated. He is currently working on a dissertation on independent horror, horror film festivals, and horror fandom; feel free to contact him to discuss any of the above! He is also studying Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).