Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mary Reilly

Image result for mary reilly 1996 john malkovichI guess because three of the biggest horror novels of all time were written and take place during the 1800’s (“Frankenstein”, “Dracula” and “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”) that particular time period will always seem sinister to an extent (the real life Jack the Ripper murders only enhance this notion).  And at times this piece brings out that seemingly inherent creepiness very well.  There’s some great atmosphere thanks to the fucking awesome set and production design (Stuart Craig and Stephenie McMillan (Harry Potters)).  England/Scotland is in an unrelenting fog, the cavernous house where most of the film takes place has only one resident but still requires five despondent people to manage the upkeep, in one part of the house there’s an elevated wooden walkway over a bottomless pit held up by rattling chains which is just weird, the meat market section of town has blood literally pouring down the walkways, the empty medical theater that should be the scene of intellectual enlightenment is instead used as a hideaway for Jekyll’s fucked up experiment and I could go on and on.  So in terms of visuals this film has mostly got it.

There’s the unusual show of restraint too but that doesn’t mean it’s a slow burn.  There isn’t a build up necessarily to some giant event at the end.  Instead we tend to see the aftermath of a bunch of nasty shit and left to wonder exactly how it all went down.  I really dig this approach because it’s the ol’ your imagination can dream up something far worse than what they can show you on screen.  And in fact when they do present us a murder outright it feels out of place.

Unfortunately the movie’s not that good overall though.  Julia Roberts’ (Conspiracy Theory) acting has been criticized a fair deal in this but I think she does a pretty good job as the incredibly timid and generally frightened of the world servant who has to endure all of the shit her employer throws at her.  Really it’s John Malkovich (Con Air) as Jekyll and Hyde who doesn’t pull off either role.  As Jekyll he’s too distant and monotone while as Hyde he’s like an irritating prepubescent brat.  Plus when he’s Hyde he looks like Tommy Wiseau (Johnny from The Room) and acts like just as much of a dick so that doesn’t help.

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Another issue is Jekyll switches to Hyde and vice versa so much that by the end the idea loses substantial power.  Instead of “oh no who’s it gonna be this time, I’m on the edge of my seat” it’s “oh no it’s this asshole Hyde again, I’m gonna grab a snack”.  All of the transformations are done off screen (accompanied by terrible stock library sound effects) which you might think is a gyp but considering the one transformation we do get involves awful dated as hell CGI I’m ok with it.

But the biggest problem with this picture is there’s no real sense of moving forward.  Having this be more of a romance than a horror film is fine but Mary Reilly and Henry Jekyll never get together or even attempt to.  It’s not that they long to be together and Hyde is tearing them apart, it’s that they go from scene to scene making no headway in a relationship they seemingly both want.  They don’t make any moves because Reilly is too reticent and Jekyll thinks he has a better chance of boning her as Hyde for some reason.  It’s frustrating because we know what Mary sees in Jekyll but he can’t see it himself.  It turns out she has a way too on the nose backstory involving a drunk, abusive and possibly incestuous father (Michael Gambon (Toys)) who apparently was a nice guy sober but a horrid sonuvabitch when sauced.  Get it?  Like Jekyll and Hyde you stupid boobs.  On the other side we have no idea what Jekyll sees in Mary.  Is it purely looks?  Her vast knowledge of housework?  I guess we’ll never know.

Image result for mary reilly 1996The idea of telling this story from the point of view of Jekyll’s servant is a cool one though.  She and the rest of the help know bizarre and eerie shit is going down in the house but only get scant clues.  They’re witnessing this unbelievable medical miracle in glimpses up close so the threat is imminent, not a safe distance away.  This viewpoint makes a lot of sense because it’s a classic way to convey a horror plot.  Don’t follow the monster around constantly but rather see how the monster affects other people’s lives.

And just to sprinkle a little more positive in here towards the end I would say my favorite performance is definitely Glenn Close (Air Force One) as the Madam of a brothel.  She’s so good at the brassy dame attitude and has complete command of any scene she’s in.  They made her face ghostly pale with beaming red lipstick so she pops out at you.  She puts on a nice thick British accent too which John Malkovich doesn’t even bother with.  Close isn’t in the movie very much, a paltry three scenes, but when we get her she’s fantastic.

Image result for mary reilly 1996One other thing of note is the filmmakers went against the mini trend at the time of making more faithful and somewhat realistic adaptations of classic horror books.  But Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were bombs so when “Jekyll and Hyde” came up Hollywood probably had second thoughts and recalibrated their formula (pure speculation on my part, I have nothing to back this up).  Funny enough Mary Reilly is actually based on a book as well of the same title.  The author, Valerie Martin, turned the old time horror tale into a tawdry romance story and goddamn if you step back for a sec that’s what this really is, isn’t it?  Man that sounds pretty awful when you say it out loud.  But the real question is how faithful is this adaptation of Martin’s novel?  The real answer is I don’t really care.

So this one has a decent amount of good points but also too many bad points.  Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity) made a beautiful looking movie with visuals that have stuck with me all these years but it’s mainly that the script doesn’t work.  Neither does the extremely bland title.  Unless you’re a big time horror buff there’s no need to see this.

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