Sunday, January 06, 2013

Movie Review: The Shout (1978)


I had wanted to review The Shout back around Halloween time, but just couldn't manage to squeeze in it. However, despite the fact that it's technically classified as an arthouse horror flick, I really didn't find anything horrific about it--more of a creepy thriller with a focus on the supernatural. 

It's also thought provoking. Even after viewing it twice, I'm left with so many unresolved questions, and I've come to the conclusion that the filmmakers wanted it that way. Some people are into that sort of thing so if you don't mind the mystery, you'll probably enjoy The Shout. If, like me, you like your movie endings tied up with a pretty little bow, you might find yourself a bit confused. 

One problem with the plot is the sequencing/sense of time. Things happen and we don't know if we're seeing a flashback or flash forward (or even flash sideways.)

So here's the gist of The Shout, the best way I can recap it. My one and only motivation for watching this film is John Hurt, my favorite British actor. Looking rather boyish here with a shaggy 70s haircut, he plays Anthony, a sound engineer with a home studio where he experiments with recording various sounds--for use in what, we never know. He is married to Rachel, played by the pretty Susannah York, a nurse at a psychiatric hospital. 

At the beginning of the film, a man named Graves (played by a young Tim Curry) arrives at a psychiatric hospital to help keep score for a cricket match. In the score booth with him is a man named Crossley, played by Alan Bates. He sees Anthony playing cricket, points him out and announces that he is a man who once had a wife, but lost her, and proceeds to tell the story of how it happened.

Anthony and Rachel are napping on the beach when they are both awakened by the same unsettling dream of an aboriginal man wearing a long dark coat and carrying what appears to be a carved bone across the dunes.

Anthony first encounters Crossley outside of the church he attends. Crossley has apparently picked Anthony as a target--he let the air out of his bicycle, and talks his way into being invited for lunch at his home, explaining that he's been traveling in the desert for some time and hasn't had anything to eat in three days.


As Crossley, Bates cuts an odd, intimidating and brooding figure who has no problem crushing wasps with his thumb. He takes very little food for his plate, despite claiming to be starving, and tells Anthony and Rachel how he lived in the outback for several years and became integrated with aboriginal society. Most unsettling is that he admits to killing the children he fathered in the desert, claiming that it's perfectly legal where he was and that he didn't see the point of them living since he was leaving and they would grow up without a father.

Crossley is well versed in aboriginal magic, and tells Anthony that he is capable of releasing what he calls "The Shout"--a yell so powerful it will kill anyone and anything within hearing distance. At first, Anthony is bemused and doesn't believe Crossley, but the next morning they walk to the dunes. This was definitely the most suspenseful part of the movie. Anthony plugs up his ears just in time, but his skinny body is knocked over by the force of The Shout and he tumbles down a dune. Nearby sheep and their herder kiel over as well. 



After Anthony comes to and they return to his home, he discovers that he has a bigger problem on his hands. Crossley is seducing Rachel...and is quite intent on never leaving their home. 

All of this would make us sympathetic towards Anthony if it weren't for one thing: he's apparently having an affair of his own with the village cobbler's wife, who makes googly eyes at him. They sneak off together after mass one day. We don't actually see them do anything salacious--but it's assumed that Anthony is straying outside of the marriage. This makes for an interesting dynamic since Crossley is out to displace Anthony. The question now is if Anthony can break Crossley's curse. 

The photography and shooting locations in this film are spectacular. It was filmed in North Devon in southwestern England--think quintessential Great Britain with rolling hills, lush greenery and coastline. The beach has been a favorite shooting location in other movies--including Pink Floyd--The Wall.

The film was directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, and features an ominous soundtrack by Tony Banks and Michael Rutherford of Genesis. 

Perhaps the unconventional shooting style is best explained by producer Jeremy Thomas:

"Skolimowski had a sense of shooting style then, this was the second director who I had worked closely with, and it was fascinating watching Skolimowski work. He came from a Polish tradition, the Wajda Film School, he had a different background to other directors I had been working with in the cutting rooms or elsewhere. And it made the film much more creative to me. I saw it more as an artistic endeavour by him. The film went to Cannes and won the Grand Prix de Jury. We were incredibly lucky and the film was appreciated by the jury. It was a very small festival then, nothing like the Cannes Film Festival of today, it was a small event in a cinema of 800 people or so."

The below trailer to The Shout promised me a "soul shattering experience"...I think it missed the mark a bit, but was interesting and entertaining just the same. You can view the movie in two parts on YouTube. 

3 comments:

A Dandy in Aspic said...

One of the most original British 'thrillers' of 1970's. I love the mysterious and bizarre atmosphere of that film. And yeah, the locations are amazing. Skolimowski made another great film few years earlier (in 1970) - "Deep End" with Jane Asher , a dark ,coming-of-age drama which I thoroughly recommend if you enjoyed "The Shout". I am glad that both films - The Shout and Deep End - which didn't really get much attention at the time of their cinematic release, had been finally 're-discovered' in the last few years, receiving belated cult status.

Luis said...

I actually saw The Shout in a movie theater but not in the 70's when it was originally released but in the 80's - probably on a double feature with some other movie. It certainly intrigued me and has stayed with me ever since. It does indeed have a creepy atmosphere and a very original story - killing with one's voice - that puts it above most thrillers. Great choice, Pam and thanks for the detailed synopsis.

Pam@GoRetro said...

Dandy -- Thanks for the recommendation. I've never heard of "Deep End" and will check it out.

Luis -- Thank you; it definitely intrigued me enough because I've been thinking about it since Halloween. I had to amend my post to fix a typo and to make it clear I did enjoy this movie, because it didn't sound that way in the original post. It must have been cool to watch it in the theater.

And maybe you guys or someone else can answer my questions (spoilers for anyone reading this who hasn't seen the film):

Did Anthony and Rachel reconcile their marriage? We see Rachel uncovering Crossley's body in the hospital at the beginning of the film like she still has feelings for the guy but I wasn't sure if Anthony truly got her back (and if he cut ties with the cobbler's wife.)

And what was up with the bee symbolism? There was the wasp (or bee) that Crossley snuffed out with his thumb, and then the bee hanging from the kitchen. I'm guessing the fact that bees are productive and can sting is some sort of symbol for Crossley.

And at the beginning of the film, we also see Crossley on a motorbike passing Anthony and Rachel in the car, while they're on the way to the cricket match. At first I thought that was their first encounter with him, but then he gets in the booth and starts telling Tim Curry the story. That part was really confusing for me.

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