The Comfort of Strangers
A match made in art-house hell: screenwriter Harold Pinter (Betrayal, The Handmaid’s Tale), master of upper-crust anomie and the pregnant pause, and director Paul Schrader (American Gigolo, Cat People, Patty Hearst), who over the years has shown an unsurpassed knack for coming up with hot, kinky ideas for movies and embalming them out of existence. In this slow- burn tale of erotic dread based on Ian McEwan’s novel, Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett are an unmarried British couple vacationing in Venice. She’s warm and adventurous and the mother of two, he’s sullen and bored and doesn’t care much for children. The movie plays out the underlying tensions in their relationship by throwing them together with that archetype from Art Cinema 101, the Mysterious Stranger. Here, he’s a suavely continental native (Christopher Walken) who strolls around in Armani suits and tells creepy Freudian anecdotes about his childhood. He lures the couple to the mausoleum-like apartment he shares with his wife (Helen Mirren), and it soon becomes apparent that the stage is being set for some bizarre sexual rite. And yet, in the tradition of sinister meta-mysteries like these, nothing really happens — that is, not until the shocking climax. If you’ve always longed to see an s&m vampire film made by Michelangelo Antonioni, this is the movie for you. The Comfort of Strangers is luridly silly, yet it isn’t quite dull. Walken takes his usual glassy-eyed menace to new levels of high-camp refinement — he manages to be over the top and minimal at the same time — and the film has an extravagantly lush atmosphere, due in large part to the music of Twin Peaks‘ Angelo Badalamenti.