Repulsion is a 1965 British psychological horror film directed by Roman Polanski, and starring Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser and Yvonne Furneaux. The screenplay was based on a scenario by GÃ©rard Brach and Polanski. The plot focuses on a young woman who is left alone by her vacationing sister at their apartment, and begins reliving traumas of her past in horrific ways. Shot in London, it was Polanski's first English-language film and second feature length production, following Knife in the Water (1962).
The film debuted at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival before receiving theatrical releases internationally. Upon its release, Repulsion received considerable critical acclaim and currently is considered one of Polanski's greatest movies. It was the first installment in Polanski's "Apartment Trilogy", followed by Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976), both of which are also horror films that take place primarily inside apartment buildings. The film was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Gilbert Taylor's cinematography.
Carol Ledoux (Catherine Deneuve), a Belgian manicurist who bites her nails, lives in Kensington, London, with her older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). Carol practically sleepwalks through her days, and interacts awkwardly with men. A would-be suitor, Colin (John Fraser), is flummoxed by her behaviour and she rebuffs his advances, disgusted by them. She hides her head in her pillow against her sister's cries of sexual pleasure with her married boyfriend, Michael (Ian Hendry). When Helen leaves on a holiday to Italy with Michael, Carol appears even more distracted at work, gets sent home, stays in the apartment, leaves a raw, skinned rabbit out to rot, and begins to hallucinate, first seeing the walls cracking, a man breaking in and molesting her, then hands reaching out to grab and attack her. Colin breaks into her apartment when she refuses to acknowledge his adoration and he apologizes for his transgression. When he says he wants to "be with" her "all the time," she bludgeons him to death with a candlestick, dumps the body into the overflowing bathtub, and nails the broken door shut. Later, the imperious landlord (Patrick Wymark) breaks in, looking for the late rent payment. Carol pays him and sits on the sofa, staring into space. He remarks on the decaying state of the apartment, and attempts to ingratiate himself by bringing her a glass of water as he leers at her in her nightgown. When he first propositions her, then sexually assaults her, she gets away. But he comes at her again and she slashes him to death with a straight razor.
When Helen and Michael return, they discover the dead bodies. Michael runs for help. Helen, distraught, finds Carol hiding under the bed in a catatonic state. Neighbors arrive - curious, concerned and shocked. Michael returns and carries Carol out, staring creepily at her wide-open eye, face and body. A family photograph on the mantel shows Carol as a girl, turned towards a male figure in the photograph with a look of loathing.
- Catherine Deneuve as Carole/Carol Ledoux
- Yvonne Furneaux as HÃ©lÃ¨ne/Helen Ledoux
- Ian Hendry as Michael
- John Fraser as Colin
- Patrick Wymark as Landlord
- Valerie Taylor as Madame Denise
- James Villiers as John
- Helen Fraser as Bridget
- Hugh Futcher as Reggie
- Mike Pratt as Workman
- RenÃ©e Houston as Miss Balch
- Monica Merlin as Mrs. Rendlesham
- Imogen Graham as Manicurist
The story for Repulsion was conceived by Polanski and GÃ©rard Brach, who wrote an outline of the script in Paris. According to Polanski, the film was shot on a modest budget of Â£65,000. In developing the apartment set decoration, cinematographer Gil Taylor photographed the apartments of various female friends in Kensington for inspiration. To finance the film, Polanski and producer Gene Gutowski approached Paramount Pictures and British Lion Films, but both companies refused. Eventually, Polanski and Gutowski signed a contract with Compton Pictures, a small distribution company that had been known primarily for its distribution of softcore pornography films.
Themes and style
The film is unusual for being a horror movie that features a female killer. It explores the repulsion Carol feels about human sexuality and the repulsion her suitors experience when they pursue her.
The movie vaguely suggests that her father may have sexually abused her as a child, which is the basis of her neuroses and breakdown. Other critics have noted Carol's repeated usage of items related to her sister's boyfriend Michael, as well as noting that his presence greatly provokes Carol at the beginning of the film.
The film also approaches the theme of boundary breaking, with Tamar McDonald stating that she saw Carol as refusing to conform to the expected "path of femininity".
The film was shot on a low budget and in black and white by Gilbert Taylor (Dr. Strangelove, A Hard Day's Night). It increasingly adopts the perspective of its protagonist. The dream sequences are particularly intense.
Repulsion is widely considered a classic of the psychological thriller genre.
Film critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave the film a positive review stating, "An absolute knockout of a movie in the psychological horror line has been accomplished by Roman Polanski in his first English-language film." Jim Emerson, filling in for Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, included the film in his list entitled "102 Movies You Must See Before...".
Upon the film's release to DVD, Dave Kehr reviewed the film for The New York Times praising the film's techniques and themes, saying, "Mr. Polanski uses slow camera movements, a soundtrack carefully composed of distracting, repetitive noises (clocks ticking, bells ringing, hearts thumping) and, once Carol barricades herself in the cramped, dark apartment, explicitly expressionistic effects (cracks suddenly ripping through walls, rough hands reaching out of the darkness to grope her) to depict a plausible schizophrenic episode."
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 100% of 58 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 8.9 out of 10. The film is currently No. 14 on Rotten Tomatoes' list of best rated films. Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 91 based on 8 reviews.
At the 15th Berlin International Film Festival in 1965, Repulsion won both the FIPRESCI Prize and the Silver Berlin Bear-Extraordinary Jury Prize. The film was also nominated for a BAFTA in Best Black and White Cinematography.
The film paved the way for Polanski's entry into the cinemas of Western Europe and drew attention to Catherine Deneuve with her performance.
Repulsion is the first of Polanski's "apartment trilogy", as it preceded Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Tenant (Le Locataire, 1976).
The film has also been the source of inspiration for many films and music videos throughout the years:
- Ï (1998) and Black Swan (2010), both by director Darren Aronofsky, allude to the film's themes and visuals.
- May (2002), by Lucky McKee, was heavily influenced by the film and has a similar motif of the protagonist's apartment mirroring her mental state.
- Scissors (1991), by Frank De Felitta and starring Sharon Stone as a paranoid woman trapped in a mysterious apartment.
- Music videos for The Cardigans' "Hanging Around" and Metric's "Monster Hospital" were directly inspired by the film.
Roman Polanski indicated in his autobiography that he and Brach devised the film as a way to help fund the making of the less commercial Cul-de-sac which was also filmed in the UK.
This was Polanski's first English language film and also the first time a film with a depiction of a female orgasm (albeit sound only) was passed by the British Board of Film Censors.
In 2009, the film was released as part of the Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-ray. Both releases contain two documentary featurettes, audio commentary by Roman Polanski and Catherine Deneuve, original trailers, and a 16-page booklet.
- Repulsion at the Internet Movie Database
- Repulsion at AllMovie
- Repulsion at Rotten Tomatoes
- Repulsion at the Criterion Collection