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June 2012

The Shout DVD

cast: Alan Bates, Susannah York, John Hurt, Tim Curry, and Robert Stephens

director: Jerzy Skolimowski

86 minutes (15) 1978
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Network DVD Region 2

RATING: 7/10
review by J.C. Hartley

The Shout

The Shout

Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski made 1970s psychosexual drama Deep End, starring Jane Asher, lately restored and released by the BFI. In 1982, in the great wave of British filmmaking pioneered by the likes of Channel Four, he made Moonlighting, the tale of a gang of handymen dispatched to the UK by a corrupt businessman from Poland to do up his London pad, and subsequently stranded there by the Solidarity uprising back home. Somewhere in-between he made this little psychological horror, based on a story by Robert Graves.

Book-ended by a village cricket match, in which the great Robert Stephens' medical man introduces Tim Curry's Robert Graves to the enigmatic Crossley (Alan Bates), the story focuses, in flashback, on the latter's tale of how John Hurt's Fielding (a little joke, as Hurt is batting at the time) lost the love of his wife Rachel (Susannah York). Of course, Crossley is an unreliable narrator.

A credits sequence follows an aboriginal shaman stumbling through sand dunes brandishing a killing bone. This sequence turns out to be a dream, experienced by Rachel as she sunbathes in the dunes with husband Anthony. It seems Anthony has had the same dream although he prevaricates. Rachel has lost the buckle from one of her sandals and Anthony must go to the village to obtain a repair. A certain frigidity in their marriage is suggested in that Anthony seems oblivious to Rachel's obvious charms as she dresses. In fact he is using his role as church organist to carry on an affair with the local cobbler's wife. When not playing the organ in church, and in the aforesaid lady, Anthony composes modern music, made up of elaborately achieved sound effects stretched and modified through a mixing-desk. The score for The Shout was by Genesis pair Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks.

Crossley secretly sabotages Anthony's push-bike, and although the latter is intimidated by the newcomer he invites him into his home. After a series of awkward conversations, Crossley reveals over lunch that he has spent time in Australia where he has mastered certain shamanistic skills such as the ability to secrete one's soul for safe-keeping, he also reveals that he has killed his own children by an aboriginal woman. Ultimately, Crossley tells Anthony that he has been given the power of a killing shout. Despite Crossley's warnings, Anthony would hear the former's shout, but uses ear-plugs and is only severely concussed; a young shepherd and several sheep are slain by the blast.

Anthony experiences a curious mental bonding with his mistress' husband, believing himself to be a cobbler and attempting some rudimentary handiwork with large pebbles he finds among the dunes. Crossley uses Anthony's incapacity to take a willing Rachel to bed; it appears that Crossley's possession of the buckle from Rachel's sandal gives him power over her. After further confrontation, Anthony intuits that Crossley's soul is hidden in a pebble on the dunes and he attempts to break it to crack Crossley's power. Meanwhile, armed police surround the house to arrest Crossley for the killing of his children. Crossley uses the shout once more but Anthony's endeavours break his power and he is taken into custody. The scene returns to the cricket match where Anthony's confident batting is creating tension among the fielders, the medical man's psychiatric patients. A sudden violent rainstorm unleashes pent-up emotions and Crossley unleashes the shout once more with fatal results.

A curiosity this, imaginative, well-made, obviously brilliantly acted, but a trifle unsatisfying. There is a certain internal logic missing; Anthony's transference with the cobbler, presumably triggered by his intimacy with the man's wife, and his realisation that Crossley's soul resides in a pebble on the beach, are confusing rather than revelatory. The finale at the rain-soaked cricket match borders on the farcical, with the score-keeper's hut revolving and eventually bursting into flames as Crossley grapples within before using the shout. Skolimowski, had a substantial break from filmmaking, during which he painted and took acting roles, but he won a sack-full of awards for 2010's rendition thriller Essential Killing.

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