Delirium (or as it was previously known, The Haunting Of Emily) is an ambitious and complex film that may mess with your head.
It certainly messed with mine. In fact, I’m completely torn between admiration for anyone who can get a film that looks as good as this on paper off the ground, and the fact that they’ve created such a tangled, messy piece of work as the end result.
The premise – sans spoilers – is that Emily, a young girl, has been abducted and then reappears a year later. Everyone wants answers. Where did she go? Who took her? What happened to her? But Emily refuses to speak a word, and the volatile dynamic between her mother, father and new step-father only makes her silence more intriguing.
A psychologist is brought on board, and Daddy decides to bring in a creepy detective whose sole job seems to be lurking and smirking. But then it gets interesting… and then it gets lost.
First let’s begin with the positives. Overall, the performances are good. This is great news, since there are a fair few horror films out there with bigger budgets than this, that deliver a cast made of shiny cardboard. This lot, on the whole, deliver.
Also, I found the film to be pretty slick and fairly well paced. Every time you think the dialogue is a bit over-laden with exposition, something happens to interject a bit of life and interest. But this might also be the film’s downfall.
And so – the negatives… Spoilers lie ahead:
Delirium is twist heavy, and after a while they start to lose impact. Twist one was great. I really didn’t see it coming, and it made sense of some of the slightly clunky dialogue in the first 25 minutes or so. It made me feel as though I was in safe hands, a proper “Aha! That’s clever!” moment.
Twist two was okay; a character reveal that wasn’t amazing but did a lot to explain why the psychiatrist was asking such awful questions.
Twist three was plain nuts, and felt like an excuse to get some gore in. The twist took a psychological plot and made it blatantly supernatural, and I suspected that those safe hands I mentioned were also being used to sling mud at a wall until some of it stuck.
Twist four was more of a deus ex machina, and I have yet to see one of those done well enough to make me feel anything other than someone couldn’t be bothered to think up a decent ending. Oh, and just so you know, shoving an inexplicable scene at the start of a film to hold up your weak finish doesn’t make it any more palatable.
Let’s focus for a second at that inexplicable scene. It’s a solid, cold opening, and overall a pretty decent start to a film (although possibly not this film). Two characters stand in the rain, with one attempting to open a garage door.
Finally, the other insists that she be allowed to help, and we discover that this is father and daughter. Later on we discover that the father is a detective, and on the hunt for the missing Emily. Why they are both there, in the night and the torrential rain, is an excellent question. What’s on the other side of that door is a good one too.
On said other side lie all of the things a good detective might need to find the missing Emily, and of course, a trap. But it turns out that our detective is pretty bad at, well, detecting, and so this cold open is really just a set up for a disappointing ending. If Delirium had concentrated more on the detective and his daughter, the ending would make a lot more sense.
Undertones of dialogue and behaviour actually suggest that there might be an intriguing history between this soggy pair. But then the daughter doesn’t appear again until the very end of the film, when she calls her dad to let him know she’s solved the case… BUH!?! There is nothing quite so frustrating as watching a detective be bad at his job.
So, on the whole there are some things to admire about Delirium. The style. The ambition. The cast.
But ultimately, some very poor story decisions let it down. What could have been a fascinating psychological thriller is twisted into something a lot less interesting and, sadly, a lot less scary.
(Although it did make me jump once. And that is quite hard to do.)
2.5 stars out of 5.
Review by Charlie Boucher (@charlieboucher)
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