The Father (12A)
- Credit: Lionsgate Films
We have grown accustomed to seeing Anthony Hopkins winning awards for terrifying audiences, but nothing quite as frightening as this role: an old man with dementia trying to maintain his bearings as his daughter (Colman) attempts to care for him.
At times he's helpless, crying like a baby, and it chills your soul. Because you know that this, or something very much like it, is heading your way. Unless, of course, you get lucky and are hit by a bus.
The expectation is that this will be a fraught, intense, frightfully well-acted piece about decent people struggling decently through an intolerable situation in a very nice flat in North London. Zeller's film though doesn't place us on the outside looking in but on the inside unable to see out.
It's a cruel switch: after a conventional opening where we assume we are taking the daughter's view fretting about how to do the right thing for her last surviving parent, the film casts us adrift inside the father's head. One minute we know where we are; the next everything is different. People change faces. The furnishings in the flat are altered. We keep circling back to the same chicken dinner with red wine.
It's all grimly effective, mirroring the subtle ways certainty slips from our grasp. Nothing new though; these techniques have been the staple of numerous psychological horror films. Think of Repulsion or various David Lynch features. But these are particularly unnerving because they violate the sanctity of the home, and underline that there is nowhere to hide.
French director Florian Zeller is adapting his own play (with some assistance from Christopher Hampton) and it is one of those rare occasions where the movement between the two forms is almost seamless. It's a play that doesn't need to be "opened up" for the big screen. The sense of containment is probably more oppressive on the screen. I think I might have preferred to see it in the theatre: the distance between me in the cheap seats and Kenneth Cranham, who originated the role on the stage, would have made it easier to take. Here the close-ups of Hopkins' bewildered face give you no escape. 4/5 stars.
Directed by Florian Zeller. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell and Imogen Poots. In Cinemas. Running time: 97 mins.
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