- Jennifer Connelly as Jennifer Corvino
- Donald Pleasence as Professor John McGregor
- Daria Nicolodi as Frau Bruckner
A horror/murder mystery from the imaginative mind of Dario Argento, Phenomena may not be his finest work. But boasting a strong and haunting visual style, a young Jennifer Connelly and a pulsing soundtrack, Phenomena is bound to linger in the mind for a long time. I can safely say that this film has me curious to watch many more of Argento’s movies( I think the only other one I’ve seen is Suspiria and another one which I can’t recall off the top of my head) in the future and add them to my ever-growing movie experience.
Jennifer Corvino is the teenage daughter of a well-known actor who is sent to a Swiss Boarding School for girls. The creepy surroundings aren’t helped by the fact that a serial killer is on the loose and many of the students have fallen victim to gruesome murders. Jennifer as it turns out possesses a strange gift; the ability to communicate with insects. This gift makes her feel isolated from those around her and makes her question whether she is normal or not. She also has a habit of sleepwalking and whilst doing this witnesses one of the murders. She also comes into contact with Professor John McGregor, a wheelchair bound authority in entomology who sees the unique gift that Jennifer has. Seeing that she could help solve the case with her powers, Jennifer sets out to find the killer before another student brutally dies. But finding the killer may just be murder in this striking mystery from the talented Argento.
As with the majority of Argento’s work, the visual design in Phenomena is absolutely stunning. Capturing the natural beauty of the Swiss countryside, yet cutting it with the copious flowing of blood proves to be an interesting juxtaposition of savagery and beauty. We also get some elaborate murder scenes which give Phenomena a disturbing quality, especially when one notes that the girl who is murdered in the opening scenes is played by one of Argento’s daughters.The sleepwalking scenes are definitely a highlight, with the camera swooning over Jennifer as she enters like Alice and Little Red Riding Hood an almost fairy-tale realm of unusual and hypnotically disturbing events cloaked in mystery and soaked in scarlet blood, aided by the insects that she can communicate with. The ability to do this allows us many interesting shots from the point of view of insects, which still hold up remarkably well today. The soundtrack for Phenomena is pulse-pounding to say the least, with synthesisers and hard rock forming the backbone. Albeit some of the uses of rock do detract from the overall impact of scenes, most of the time it gives it a driving force and nightmarish quality. I’m the not the biggest fan of dubbing, and some of it here is pretty laughable, but if you can overlook this then Phenomena is still a well-crafted slice of mystery with an imaginative mind at the helm. The only other flaw is that all of the creative ideas here don’t quite flow well with one another and this leaves the first half hour a long slog. But once it hits the hour mark, the elements do gel a little more with one another and Argento introduces more pace into the narrative which saves Phenomena from going off the rails.
A young Jennifer Connelly is excellent in the main role. Argento clearly put a lot of faith in the young Connelly by basing the story around a young girl, but Connelly handles this remarkably well and conveys innocence, courage and skepticism as her character ventures deeper into the disturbing events around her. Donald Pleasence is well cast as the curious professor who notices the young girl’s gift and how she can use it to help in the murder case. Daria Nicolodi is interesting as the mysterious teacher at the boarding school, who always seems to have a nervous menace about her.
If you can overlook the flaws of the first half, then Phenomena is an effective horror/mystery with striking visuals and a great lead performance from Jennifer Connelly.