Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB
Original Title: Phenomena
Italy/Switzerland, 1985. DACFILM Rome. Story and Screenplay by Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini. Cinematography by Romano Albani. Produced by Dario Argento. Music by Simon Boswell, Goblin. Production Design by Maurizio Garrone, Nello Giorgetti, Luciano Spadoni, Umberto Turco. Costume Design by Giorgio Armani, Marina Malavasi, Patrizia Massaia. Film Editing by Franco Fraticelli.
Dario Argento once named this his favourite of his own films, which means it’s likely that he has the patience to sit through it, a feeling that not all audiences will share. A series of murder of young girls in the Swiss countryside are being committed by an unseen killer, while in the same vicinity an entomologist (Donald Pleasence) is studying the decomposition of corpses by studying maggots, accompanied by an adorable chimp who keeps him company when his friend (Patrick Bauchau) and assistant (Michele Soavi) aren’t also there to pass the time. The lynchpin in this strange setup is the wealthy daughter (Jennifer Connelly) of a European movie star who is sent to live at the prestigious boarding school whose student body has been providing the murderer with his unwilling victims. She befriends Pleasance thanks to her own love of insects and, it turns out, her mystical ability to control them to do her bidding, which eventually helps her solve the murders (in real life, on the set, she lost a part of her finger to the volatile chimp). A series of elongated, stylish but never suspenseful sequences are occasionally punctuated by some outrageously exciting gory mayhem, but the plot itself never stays on track, beginning with a serial killer before becoming a mystical investigation of Connelly’s powers and focusing too long on her scenes with Pleasence before finally getting back to the original issue at hand. What means to be complicated is actually overloaded, and waiting for the film to find its centre of gravity is a dull and trying experience, though Connelly’s confidence on screen, so early in her career as a lead, is noteworthy.