Sunday, January 21, 2007

Movie Review: Communion 4 Stars

Poorly marketed and poorly received, Communion is richly deserving of a critical reconsideration that, hopefully, the recent renaissance of UFOlogy will spark. Interest in extraterrestrial-human contact unfortunately may not be enough.

At the time of its release, the eerie Communion drew some of the harshest lambasting from the pundits of paranormal phenomena. The film raised the hackles of anal probe prophets who were incensed that the film refused to acknowledge that Little Blue Men and Tall Grey E.T.’s were for real. Contrariwise, skeptics were outraged that director Phillipe Mora didn’t denounce alien abductions in general and the film’s true-life abductee Whitley Streiber in particular.

Instead, Mora didn’t take sides, didn’t offer an easy explanation and didn’t make a film that was in anyway straightforward. He focused on the psychological effect an alien encounter or hallucinations of such would have on the alleged abductee and his family.

Writer Whitley Streiber (Christopher Walken) is at a high point in his life. The author of the successful novels (subsequently successful movies) Wolfen and The Hunger is happily married to his supportive wife Anne (Lindsay Crouse) and has a beautiful son Andrew (Joel Carlson). However, this peace is shattered on a trip to his Upstate New York cabin.

Although he forgets the details of his dream at the cabin, his return to the city is marked with increasingly powerful hallucinations and a long dry spell of creativity. This is coupled with an overwhelming sensation of being visited by otherworldy guests that Streiber tries to deny until he nearly kills his wife while in a paranoid delusional state.

Streiber acquiesces to hypnotherapy, unleashing a flood of horrifying memories of his abductions and the troubling feeling that his son may also be an abductee. At first, Streiber is too terrified to even fathom the possibility, but after sitting in on a self-pitying support group, he decides to confront his tormentors head on and, in doing so, discovers something about himself.

While the film never condemns Streiber, you can’t help but get the sense, especially as portrayed (brilliantly) by Walken, that Streiber is kind of batty, whether he was actually molested by space doctors or not. The controversy surrounding Communion, of course, stems from Mora’s adamant refusal to assume that Streiber’s pre-existing nuttiness taints his testimony. Or worse, that Streiber is a charlatan, an author of fantasy stories who has duped readers with just another fantastical yarn. Deftly, Mora circumnavigates the “did it or didn’t it” happen question, and, in doing so, has created a much more powerful and haunting film.

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