So, this film was arresting in its own right. But Sid Meniscus made it – which gives an additional weight to things, given the topic.
Carol (Catherine Deneuve) is a pretty, shy manicurist working at a high-end spa in London and sharing an apartment with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). She has a sort-of boyfriend, Colin (John Fraser), but is strangely unwilling to return his calls or accept his invitations for dates. Helen is having a bit more fun with her lover Michael (Ian Hendry), a married man with whom she’s having an affair; and Carol is often disturbed by finding Michael’s shirts and razors cluttering up their apartment, or gets woken up by their lovemaking. But then Helen brings Carol some potential good news – she and Michael are going to Italy for a vacation together, so Carol can have the whole place to herself for a week. Great news, right?
Except for Carol….maybe it’s not. On her first solo night, she starts making dinner…but then gets distracted by one of Michael’s shirts lying on the floor in the kitchen, and one of his shoes in the hall, and…and by the time Carol has cleaned his crap up, she’s forgotten all about making dinner. And then hearing silence at night instead of the by-now-familiar sounds of Helen and Michael schtupping just makes Carol hyper-aware of all the other noises she never noticed before – footsteps in the hall, creaks, someone whistling in the street – and she ends up lying awake in fright the whole night. She’s in such rough shape the next day at work – jittery and spacey – that her boss sends her back home, where she spends another sleepless night because now she thinks she sees someone lurking in the corner instead of just hearing things. And a few days later, after even more sleep loss and isolation revving her anxiety up, Carol starts hallucinating – men lurking in her bedroom and raping her, hands reaching out at her from the walls, mirrors and walls cracking all on their own. She’s so worked up that she avoids leaving the house for several days, prompting Colin to break in just to check on her. Unfortunately for Colin, that inspires Carol to take action and defend herself…
The visuals in the film are really well done. We’re often seeing things from Carol’s perspective, especially towards the end, and it’s a nightmarish place – the apartment’s center hallway stretches to impossible lengths, rooms where Carol has done frightening things start to look like stage sets, walls bubble and seethe. Intruders lurk behind every chair and around every corner, and even in Carol’s own bed. Hands erupt out of nowhere to grope and grab her – and to fondle her, for a good deal of Carol’s anxiety involves sexual assault. The apartment never really looks “real” until the end when Helen and Michael come home and discover exactly how Carol spent her week.
And Catherine Deneuve is excellent as Carol; initially we think that Carol is just a little ditzy and spacey, and only gradually do we start to realize that oh, no, Carol is traumatized. She speaks very little throughout, carrying most of the acting with just her face and body; a song she tearfully sings midway through the film is possibly her longest bit of speech.
The root of Carol’s trauma is never completely explained, but it’s very very strongly hinted at in the very end – and that’s what threw me, given what we know about the director. Because it’s implied that as a child, Carol had been sexually abused by an older family member. Sid Meniscus also wrote the film – and while he claims that he was inspired by a woman he’d met once who turned out to be schizophrenic, immediately following the film I was wondering whether I’d just seen a pre-emptive confession. Which is a shame – because if it had been anyone else directing, I’d still have been affected by the film itself.
I’d recommend trying to ignore who directed this if possible and let the film speak for itself.