Originally posted on ForcedViewing.com
To me, Roman Polanski will always be famous for 3 things: (1) Making awesome and unsettling movies set in close, uncomfortable quarters. (2) Doing that one really, really awful thing. Like seriously, holy shit… (3) Influencing Nicki Minaj’s pseudonym of Roman Zolanski. While I could (and should) gush about the horror aspects of her verse on Kanye West’s “Monster” (and the whole song, really), that’s a discussion for another time. Instead, allow me to take the time to adequately talk about one of Polanski’s less-discussed masterpieces, Repulsion.
This film, similar to the other two films in Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” (with Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant), is the story of a young woman driven to insanity within her own small living quarters. This insanity is caused by two main factors: Her sense of claustrophobia, and her warped idea of sexuality. The latter is partially caused by her sister Helen, who makes passionate love to her lover Michael night after night in the next room, loud enough for Carole to hear every moan, every orgasm. Polanski would use sound (or lack thereof) to the film’s benefit many times throughout the movie, one scene in particular I’ll discuss below.
This not only exacerbates Carole’s claustrophobia by placing her in an environment in which she cannot escape, but it also subconsciously fuels her distaste of men, and therefore disallows her to have a meaningful relationship with the opposite gender. Once Helen and Michael leave for a holiday, one would imagine that her claustrophobia would settle. However, it only worsens, for when a woman with Carole’s warped mentality is left to her own devices, only the worst could happen. *Insert evil laugh here*
Much like Rosemary’s Baby, the first 30 minutes of Repulsion are not particularly frightening, and that is purposeful. Polanski knew how to create the perfect horrific atmosphere: by making the audience relatively comfortable, only to violently shake them out of that comfort zone. However, unlike Rosemary’s Baby, this film possesses a few more jump scares, which would go on to become a major tenet of modern horror films. This is first seen when Carole begins having intense hallucinations, beginning with the random cracks in the wall, symbolic of Carole’s fragile mentality: at any moment, her once-sturdy walls could crack apart with enough provocation. Man, I’m getting deep today.
Carole’s provocation comes with the even more intense hallucination of the hands and the rape dreams (Yeahhh, awkward, Polanski…). The hands themselves were creepy enough, protruding from the wall attempting to fondle Carole and fueled by her hatred of males. The rape dreams were also intensely frightening, albeit in a much different way. An overweight, sloppy man gets into bed and rapes her, and there is no audio of the event happening at all. This goes beyond Carole’s own distrust of males, for this is a scene that reflected the act of rape itself: an immobilizing and silencing experience.
Carole’s hallucinations do not stay in her mind, however, for two males enter her apartment on different occasions: her ex-boyfriend and her landlord. This is symbolic as well, for by entering her apartment, her walls crumbled down even more, showing what can be seen as an “invasion” of sorts, at least from the point of view of our protagonist. Her ex Colin enters the apartment because he loves her and he wants to know why she’s upset, whereas the landlord is presented as a predator, sensing isolation and loneliness in his prey. Once he enters the apartment, we see him as a stereotypical asshole landlord, but once he sees how beautiful Carole is and that she’s alone, he attempts to make moves on her by softening his voice and getting to know her. He then states that she can forget about paying the rent if she “spends some time” with him. Let’s just say things don’t end too well for either of these guys.
I would say Repulsion is actually one of my favorite horror movies. I prefer entries in the genre with more subtle scares and mindfucking elements as opposed to pure slasher flicks (though the subgenre of slasher is objectively wonderful), and this film is a true example of “apartment” and psychological horror. While not as terrifying as, say, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, it’s still a very creepy, unnerving delve into the mind of a mentally unhinging isolated individual and absolutely must be seen.