Are directors possibly closet serial killers? This loaded question has already long been mulled at least jokingly, about surgeons. But filmmaker Sacha Gervasi seems to take this notion to unusual extremes, with his brash biopic, Hitchcock.
And you might not imagine that a director whose only other movie, a 2008 heavy metal documentary known as Anvil: The Story Of Anvil, would be the filmmaker of choice for a biopic about Alfred Hitchcock. But neither might you imagine a regal and stuffy Brit like Hitchcock making a horror movie like Psycho – as it was described in shocking terms at the time in the culturally conservative mid-20th century – about ‘voyeurism, transvestism and incest.’
And not unlike another selectively slim slice of life partial portrait currently making the rounds of the plexes – Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln that is pretty limited to events connected to the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation – Gervasi’s Hitchcock sticks to the germination of the rather perverse circumstances surrounding the creation of Psycho. Which inaugurated a macabre makeover of the relatively tame horror thriller up until then, that challenged and transformed that genre and rigid Hollywood censorship regulations, forever after. Including the novel shock and awe of a toilet flushing in a movie.
Anthony Hopkins projects a rather stiff and self-conscious replica of Hitchcock, fat suit, facial prosthetics and all, more as if preening for a masquerade ball than disappearing into a character. It’s 1959, and though the recipient of audience accolades, most recently for North By Northwest, the sixty year old Hollywood celebrity like many with a creative mind, remains in a state of restless, fierce one upmanship with his most disturbing competitor – himself.
Obsessively driven to set a formidable personal goal of hopefully elevating the cheap thrills of horror to high art, Hitchcock, in the face of disapproval and ridicule – from both Paramount Studios and his wife and former boss Alma (Helen Mirren) that he’s now overshadowed – latches on to a real life grisly tale that played out in rural Wisconsin. And incredulously sets about buying up every copy of the book written about the matricidal necrophiliac in question, so the content of his movie might remain shrouded in secrecy. Not to mention displaying a fanatical, deliciously dark relish for the project, that Gervasi is not shy about intimating as a close parallel to his compulsive eating disorder binging.
As a journey through Hitchcock’s presumed dark side indulging a mischievous brew of wit laced with a rich fantasy life crowded with his many blonde starlets, and a malicious cocktail of vicarious perversions, Gervasi makes his case for the director as the sublimated deviant persona hidden beneath the creepy layers driving Norman Bates. In that gory, graphic gender bender long, before that term had even entered the public imagination.
And whether you buy it or not, that may be a case of blind faith. Ditto for Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel as not exactly pulling off the respective vintage screen goddesses Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, that they play.
Fox Searchlight Pictures