Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fantasia 2012 - The Haunting of Julia

We wavered on this one, but decided this morning that we should go see it.  I biked down and picked up my tickets and biked back, Then we met some friends at this new Russian-style donut place Chez Boris.  Delicious!  And pretty authentic according to our Russophile friend.  I recommend it.  Transport en commune was running on their slow Sunday schedule (shouldn't they fit their schedule around the busy summer weekend activity, especially when it's festival season?) so I got into the line up at the Sève pretty far back,  Interestingly, the VIP lineup was almost as big as the hoi-polloi line-up.  Kier-La Janisse, who was hosting the event, has contributed a ton to the Montreal film community, so I'm sure everybody wanted to be at the launch of her new book, The House of Psychotic Women.  We picked up a hardback copy.  It's a beautiful book and looks really compelling.  My wife and I hadn't seen and barely heard of the first four movies in the compendium at the back and they all looked interesting.  Always a good sign.  Get it.

The Haunting of Julia, also known as Full Circle, is based on a book by Peter Straub.  It starts with Mia Farrow preparing breakfast with her daughter and distracted husband ("just cofee" he says, pushing the just completed plate of eggs away; how did dudes get away with that kind of behavioiur?).  Suddenly and horribly, the daughter starts choking on a piece of apple.  The worst happens.  After weeks in the hospital, Julia makes a break, flees her husband and buys her own place.  She is struggling to deal with her grief over her daughter's death while maintaining an independent lifestyle.  It's odd, because as a wealthy (due to a family trust) married but separate women in 1970's London, she doesn't have anything to do.  She doesn't have a job. She has only one friend (a friendly antique salesman who may be attracted to her), no family and no hobbies other than tracing her fingers in the pattern of the rug for hours on end.  No wonder she starts to go crazy.

"Maybe I should adopt..."

Weird shit happens and she learns that the new house she is in has a history.  Meanwhile, her husband, who wants access to her trust, starts to stalk and harass (i.e. be a 20th century white male).  This middle part of the movie is quite good.  There is a real backstory here and it is fun to follow Mia as she unravels it.  There are some skin-crawling moments here as well and one truly freaky encounter with an old lady at an insane asylum.  Ultimately, I found the ending a bit simplistic.  There were several plot threads that were either ignored or just snuffed out with death and the ambiguity developing around Julia relationship to the haunting was not treated with the depth it could have had.  But the ending comes quickly and it's weakness doesn't take away much from the overall pleasure of an atmospheric and creepy lead-up built on a solid ghost story.

This is a mood movie, with lots of music .  Some of it quite good british '70s electronic organ stuff a la Get Carter and the Hammer television series, but it can get a bit imposing and there is excessive musical cues that remind us that this kind of crutch is sadly not something new.  Also, the version we saw was a digital copy of an original 30mm.  Unfortunately, it was way too dark so some scenes in an attic were just black for several seconds.  Also, the dialogue was slightly out of sync.  The latter is particularly frustrating because it's something that could have been fixed during the projection, assuming they were using some decent software and had someone that knew what they were doing there.

Technical problems aside, it was a really enjoyable screening.  The audience was respectful and engaged (no cellphone usage! Yay!) and the movie was gripping.  I definitely got quite freaked out at two points in the movie.  Good start to the festival for me.  

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