Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Haunting of Julia

(Richard Loncraine, 1977)
This movie about the spirit world has no inner life. Never as Mia Farrow quests around the London cityside do we get any sense of clarity or revelation; first she's mourning her dead daughter, then a seance points to a dead boy, which puts her on the trail to a murderous little girl, also dead...and what of it? Either Farrow's gone bonkers, or else one or the other of these children have possessed her, instigating a new round of heinous acts inflicted on a confoundingly arbitrary cross-section of the supporting cast, friends and enemies and strangers alike. Lucky for such a superficial film that the surface is pretty watchable: the film milks olde fog-encrusted England for all the subtle atmosphere it's worth, and the performers invest a lot of detail in their panoply of repressed classbound types. Sad then that none of these characters really develop or resolve within the narrative. Loncraine plays even the big death scenes for murky mystery, which may be aesthetically principled of him but also compounds the already perilous dragginess of the whole thing, and none of Farrow's spirit visions have any poetry to them. How can a film this studiously indebted to "Don't Look Now" be so innocent of rhythm, dynamics and effect? You keep hoping it's all leading somewhere, but in the end this is basically a Heimlich Maneuver PSA with a ninety-minute coda. And while the title theme is memorable, it is also hammered to death.

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