Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Hand

A famous comic book artist (Michael Caine), whose marriage is falling apart, loses his drawing hand in a grisly car accident. Things do not go smoothly as he tries to adjust to his new disability and to put his life back together, and more and more his suppressed anger starts boiling up. And soon enough it appears that his lost appendage, never found, may somehow still be alive, acting out his repressed desires.

An early Oliver Stone film, The Hand is a classically styled psychological thriller with a bit of an old-fashioned monster movie twist. The is before Oliver Stone began developing into a manic film stylist, so visually speaking it's fairly reserved, especially for a horror movie. But don't worry, it's still Oliver Stone, so the film isn't exactly staid, either; in fact the story revolves around the kind of absurd, psycho-sexual hysteria that's been popular in thrillers since at least Psycho.

Weirdly enough, the film's slow burn mix of psychological thriller and horror reminds me more of George Romero than anything else; Romero's earlier Martin had a similar vibe, and his later films Monkey Shines, The Dark Half and Bruiser all deal with the physical manifestation of one's repressed desires in the form of a monster much the same way. I think it's a solid and satisfying hook for a horror movie; the idea that the monster or the darkness is part of ourselves that we try not to acknowledge. The Hand does this well with a central metaphor that is, if you'll forgive the pun, not too heavy-handed. The only problem is (in one of the film's obvious references to Psycho) its insistence on overexplaning everything that happens in pseudo-psychological terms, when leaving it ambiguous, unexplained or purely supernatural might have been preferable. Then again, the final scene puts a spin on this as well.

The film hinges on Michael Caine's performance, and I think it works in part because of his and Stone's unwillingness to soften the character or make him too sympathetic. Caine's character starts off mildly unpleasant and gets worse after the accident; he tries to use his disability to keep his estranged wife with him against her wishes, engages in a seriously inappropriate relationship with a student, harbors resentment against his business associates even though he goes along with their plans, and more or less blames everyone else for his problems. He's not overtly an asshole most of the time, more like passive-aggressive and self-centered... until things get aggressive-aggressive. I was worried early on in the film that we were supposed to like his character and not notice the way he treats people, but by the end it's clear that this violence and anger was always a part of him, and it's only the accident that's brought it all out.

Rating: B

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