- Catherine Deneuve as Carol Ledoux
- Yvonne Furneaux as Helen Ledoux
- Ian Hendry as Michael
- John Fraser as Colin
- Patrick Wymark as Landlord
Commonly seen as one of the best examples of psychological horror, Polanski’s Repulsion still remains an unsettling tale of one woman’s descent into mental ruin. Atmospheric and horrific in equal measure, it is a film that leaves a deep impression on the viewer and makes them ask many questions when the film has finished. Polanski has fashioned a film that takes the place where most people feel safe, the home, and turned it into a nightmare of the senses. The use of this is eerily effective and makes the whole film more plausible and supremely chilling.
Carol Ledoux is a young manicurist from France who lives with her sister in a London apartment. Although highly attractive, she is sexually unaware and repulses all men for an unexplained reason. She practically day dreams her way through the day, barely making conversation with anyone and rejecting the gestures of her suitor. When her more confident sister ,Helen mentions she is going away on a trip with her smarmy boyfriend, Carol is filled with panic at the thought of being left alone. Dismissing her sisters worry as her being merely sensitive, Helen leaves Carol by herself. What ensures is a shocking disintegration of Carol’s mind, as her fears become a reality in the squalid apartment and she slowly but surely starts to crumble in a macabre fashion.
A young Catherine Deneuve is heartbreaking and pitch perfect as the repressed, withdrawn and frigid Carol. Her character does not talk much, but her face and body shows every confused and emotional thing she is going through and makes her startling performance both frightening and intense. The whole film is anchored by her portrayal and keeps the viewer glued as she sinks deeper and deeper into a delusional mental state. She is most effective when her face is almost catatonic and her eyes don’t betray what she is feeling, this makes the audience wonder what is really going on in her head. The camerawork should be praised, the way it follows Carol like a stalking predator adds to the paranoia she suffers and the unsettling feeling she feels around men in society. The music used is interesting because of its piercing changes in tempo and sound that give only subtle insights into the troubled and confused mind of Carol; many other uses of sound are used to add to the isolation such as an unanswered phone ringing and the sound of bells from the nunnery behind the apartment taking on a sinister tone before the midnight hour. Everyday objects such as a crack in the wall and the constant ticking of a clock become forms of torture as she continues to crumble into a catatonic state and hallucinate about the thing around her.
A genuinely chilling story of delusion, repression and isolation that slowly builds its way up to a violent climax, Repulsion is psychological filmmaking at its best. If you enjoy this film, then you can’t go wrong with the rest of Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy, consisting of Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant. These films continue with themes similar to Repulsion and make for nerve shredding viewing.