January 24, 2009

Night of Suspense Part II: "Why do I have to be the champion blind lady?"

It was just an hour shy of midnight when our merry little group began our second film, “Wait Until Dark.” How appropriate. I almost didn’t stay for it, but I’m glad I did. One member of our group did have to leave, unfortunately, though she tried her best to get off of work for the next day. She sure missed out. After Rear Window, we were all laughing and talking about how much of a damn fun ride we’d had. When the end credits rolled for Wait Until Dark, we were definitely more apprehensive.

Hepburn smells a rat... in a trench coat.

I will say here that any potential viewer would definitely benefit from not knowing anything about Wait Until Dark before seeing it. I’d never even heard of it before. When I inquired about the plot, Jared simply told me to wait and see. I’d say this would apply for nearly any movie. Wait Until Dark doesn’t have any mind-bending plot twists, but going in completely fresh made all the small surprises and tense moments much more engaging.

So, I would recommend than anyone who has not yet seen this film stop right here and go rent it now. Come back later. I’ll wait.

Reminds me of Freddy.

Ah, screw it. While not rich and diverse enough to completely trump “Rear Window” (that movie is so well rounded, as I’ve said), Wait Until Dark gripped me and pulled me down into the lightless world of the blind protagonist, played by Audrey Hepburn. The film is based on a play, and besides the opening and a few minor scenes, the entire plot unravels in Hepburn’s apartment.

The story begins with a heroin-filled doll on its way to the States. When the woman responsible for the doll discovers an unfriendly welcoming party upon her arrival (a lone villain played to the hilt with extra slime by Alan Arkin), she entrusts the doll to a man she met on the plane, who unknowingly takes the smuggled drugs into his own house with his wife (Hepburn). When the two parties come to claim the doll, Hepburn is thrown in the middle of what becomes a terrifying struggle to survive. Any movie featuring characters at their wits’ end against an insurmountable enemy, any tale centering on survival in the most hopeless situation, is embodied in this minimalist film and magnified ten times when the protagonist’s ability to see her tormentors is taken away.

"Yah, we're bad..." Roat (Arkin) seems to be the only one who enjoys it.

Fortunately, Hepburn’s character isn’t alone in her struggle, as one of the neighborhood kids who helps around the house becomes entangled in the battle. Two women, one blind, and one a child, against three hardened thugs; it’s a classic story of brains over brawn.

There isn’t much more I’d wish to say without taking away from the film’s many tense situations. More so than in Rear Window, all of us were on the edge of our seats. Even though we knew nearly every move the thugs made, the suspense lied in seeing Hepburn slowly figuring out the situation. There are moments when her disability keeps her from seeing danger that is right under her nose that left us breathless, not knowing what to expect next.

Just because she's blind doesn't mean she can't turn the situation to her advantage.

Hepburn’s performance shines here; every wrenching expression of fear is put on display, and the viewer can’t help but feel her terror. We definitely did. One particular scene caused all of us to shout out loud (one person squeaked, while I found myself nearly jumping out of my chair with a booming “Goddamn!”) For those who've seen the movie, you'll know what scene I'm talking about.

Why would anybody ever wear horn-rimmed glasses?

Wait Until Dark is every bit as good as Rear Window, though in slightly different ways. Both plots are constructed with the same gleefully sinister intent to leave the viewer drowning in suspense. However, while Rear Window’s story is backed up by the colorful apartment complex full of life, the setting of Wait Until Dark is barren. This is part of what made the film - for me, at least - more terrifying. It’s just the protagonist, a child, and three ruthless bad guys who have every advantage. There is no one else for Hepburn to turn to, and she is completely isolated in her own home.

No one does "terrified" like Hepburn.

As I said before, to be a great movie, a film must excel in many levels. Besides the expertly constructed plot, Wait Until Dark has a downright foreboding soundtrack that, on the very first note, lets the audience know they are in for a very dark tale. The performances are also award-worthy. As mentioned before, Hepburn’s fear and desperation are palpable, and the main villain is so smugly evil that he seems to enjoy it (Arkin seems to enjoy his extra roles in the movie even more; you‘ll see).

"What's that you say? Wait until dark? It's already dark! What? You're blind? I knew that."

So, as the credits rolled, we again wiped our brows, only this time catching our breaths, which had been held up to this point. Again I stepped outside and the layers of fog than inspired light-hearted contemplations of the evil beyond now brought true dread: real slime slicks the streets every night. And now, it was past four in the morning, the prime time for the world’s evil to prowl. It was at this point that I felt the need to make sure my car doors were locked.

Original poster. I love the typography.

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