UK Release Date: 19th March 2018
Runtime: 101 minutes
Director: Robert Altman
Writer: Robert Altman
Starring: Susannah York, Rene Auberjonois, Marcel Bozzuffi, Hugh Millais
Synopsis: A woman is plagued by disturbing visions in which she can no longer tell the difference between her husband and her various lovers.
The paranoid, claustrophobic horror-thriller is a staple of cinema – most famously in Roman Polanski’s wonderfully stripped-down Repulsion, which sees Catherine Deneuve slowly unravelling while alone in an apartment. This week, another example of the genre has landed on Blu-ray in the UK in the shape of Robert Altman‘s 1972 movie Images. It’s a surreal, terrifying movie that benefits from some nicely controlled direction, a committed central performance and an instantly memorable score from the master of the medium – John Williams.
The film casts an unusual spell from its first moments, with protagonist Cathryn (Susannah York) narrating the children’s book she is writing, with blasts of John Williams’s clanging, disorientating score interrupting her words to chilling effect. Williams’s score is an important cog in building the movie’s unusual atmosphere from those early stages, roughly grabbing the audience and knocking them off-balance. She receives a mysterious phone call telling her that her husband Hugh (René Auberjonois) is having an affair. When she later sees her husband seemingly transform into another man in front of her – delivered via a killer jump scare – she decides she needs a holiday to the countryside.
It’s at this point that Altman kicks his already intriguing premise up a notch. While at the countryside home, Cathryn begins hallucinating the presence of her dead lover Rene (Marcel Bozzuffi), as well as a seemingly malevolent doppelganger of herself. Hugh’s friend Marcel (Hugh Millais) is also sniffing around and he too has had a sexual relationship with Cathryn, who forms a friendship with Marcel’s timid young daughter Susannah (Cathryn Harrison).
If you’ve been keeping up with those character-actor name combinations, you’ll have noticed that the real names and character names are jumbled replicas of each other. That’s a neat nod to the muddled hallucinations and fractured psyche of Images, which plays itself dead straight, but has a dark sense of playful humour in its filmmaking. Altman constantly flips the script every time the narrative appears predictable and he delivers a succession of arresting, horrifying images that are far more chilling than the standard jump scares and jolts.
York’s central performance is a compelling one, winning the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival, as she conveys the rapidly unfurling personality she is trying to maintain control over. She is consistently a step or two away from being a damsel or a scream queen, taking matters into her own hands as the narrative reaches its conclusion, setting forth lusty sexuality and lurid, giallo-esque gore. The men around her feel more cartoonish, but that’s almost by design as York loses her grip on the complexity of reality.
Ultimately, though, Images feels like something of a poorer cousin to Repulsion. It has a stunning score, some great central performances and a final twist in the tale, but it constantly feels like it’s pushing against its influences and there’s something slightly muddled about the way it slots the pieces of its story together. For everything it does right, it has a tendency to occasionally misfire in ways that almost scupper the entire thing.
We get a fun appreciation of the movie by musician and author Stephen Thrower, some commentaries, an interview with Altman and a new chat with then-child star Cathryn Harrison.
Pop or Poop?
It’s a slave to its influences, but Images is an intriguing study of a fractured mind from Robert Altman, with a terrific performance from Susannah York at its heart. The jumbling of reality and unreality is weaved in interesting fashion, though there’s a certain sense of incoherence that the film is never quite able to resolve. When it’s on song, though, it definitely delivers the goods on the scare front.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Images is available on Blu-ray in the UK now, courtesy of Arrow Academy.