Sunday, May 27, 2012

REVIEW: The Sentinel

The Sentinel
Director: Michael Winner
Year 1977
The Sentinel is an outstandingly haunting film that relies on subtlety and tension to tell its atmospheric tale of one woman’s descent into madness. Centered on an old apartment complex, the movie bombards the viewer with a wild array of motley characters, all in which inhabit this historic building filled with various sorted tales. With a palpable tone and well paced direction, The Sentinel is a horror film that approaches the subject matter in a classy and respectable way, opening up the film for a much broader representation of the genre.
The film follows a young and beautiful fashion model named Alison Parker, who against the wishes of her boyfriend Michael, is looking for an apartment to rent for herself in New York City. After going through a number of overpriced places, Alison stumbles upon a unique find in Brooklyn Heights in the form of an old apartment building filled with some interesting tenants. Unknown to Alison though is that the building complex has a long and sorted past filled with both mystery and horror. Haunted by frightening visions and battling through a series of strange events, Alison finds herself being drawn into a morbid plot that has her becoming a permanent resident of this house of horrors. Run Alison, run!

Cristina Raines plays the role of Alison Parker, the attractive model who is tormented by a house and destiny that she cannot pull away from. Cristina does an excellent job with the doomed character of Alison, giving a sympathetic performance that really steals the show and progresses the film along with ease. She has the stunning look that is required for the role of a fashion model, but she also has an excellent underplayed approach to her tormented character. Throughout the film, Alison gives off shades of vulnerability, sheer terror, and ultimately strength as she takes on the forces of the house against her own better judgment. Another impressive aspect of her role is the physical progression, or regression, her character undergoes as the film moves along. She goes from a youthful and optimistic woman to a drained and haggard wreck as the film nears its epic conclusion. The overall performance looked draining as all hell, but the end result is rather impressive and makes for a believable and shocking ending when the curtain finally closes.
Paired up with Cristina is the cool as shit Chris Sarandon, taking on the role of Michael Lerman, Alison’s boyfriend. Sarandon plays the character with a suave disposition and a cocky attitude that only he can pull off. What’s most interesting about his character is that for the majority of the film, we are given some pretty heavy clues that point to him being involved in some way with what has been going on at Alison’s apartment. Of course, Sarandon can play off of those teasing aspects of whether he’s a bad guy or good guy like a pro, so the addition of ambiguity is quite clever on the side of the filmmakers and Chris is expertly up to the challenge. What I enjoyed most about his role in the film, is that he becomes somewhat of a defender of his endangered girlfriend, doing research on the side in order to try to find out what is wrong with her. It’s actually a nice change of pace from what we see earlier in the film, and he’s able to make his character reveal some rather endearing qualities. Plus, look at that damn mustache!

The rest of the cast is absolutely great and essential to the structure of the story. Throughout the film, Alison is introduced to her various neighbors in the building, with each one being stranger than the next. They’re all a bit eccentric and each one has their own set of quirks, but for the most part Alison enjoys the company of these strange folks. What is even stranger though, that when complaining about the noise that some of them make at night to her real estate agent, she comes to find that there is only one person living in the building and they live on the top floor. This notion that she has a building full of neighboring tenants that aren’t really supposed to be there is an intriguing one and it is a notion that drives the mystery of this film along with great skill. Another great aspect of these mystery tenants is that they are all insanely wacky in their own respect. We have a lesbian couple, a jaded old woman, a peculiar married couple, and an interesting old man played by Burgess Meredith, who has a pet canary. Hell they even throw other interesting characters at us from outside the apartment complex like Arthur Kennedy and John Carradine as priests, Ava Gardner as Alison’s real estate agent, and a short running cameo by Jeff Goldblum, so this film has no shortage of interesting characters and big name actors. This motley group provides a great deal of spectacularly strange moments within the story and they aid a great deal to the overall atmospherically charged events of the movie.
Speaking of atmosphere, this film has it down-packed with its architecturally interesting look and storied past. Add onto that the wonderfully realized scenes where Alison is wandering around the building at night and you’ve got one hell of a gothic infused horror flick. There are some moments in the movie that are so expertly shot and perfectly handled, that you find yourself jumping out of your seat, not from a loud noise or pitch in music but by the creepiness of the moment. For instance, there is a part in this film that has Alison fumbling in the dark with a broken flashlight, only to have a shadow on the wall behind her spring to life and walk right across her field of vision, only to make it to the other side of the room and stand there, still as stone. The moment is frighteningly simple, yet it packs a punch, one that doesn’t go away as you wait to see what happens next. There’s another moment that has an army of freaks and oddities roaming the darkened halls of the apartment complex with some disturbing imagery that will literally haunt you in your sleep. These are just two examples of many, because this is one classic horror flick that gives you genuine scares without being over bombastic and flashy with their frights. Bring it on and check it out.

The Sentinel is a miraculous display on how horror movies should be done. With a subtle build up that lets the tension grow over time, the film shows just how hypnotic a classically done fright flick can be. With a stupendous performance by both Cristina Raines and Chris Sarandon, and an ensemble cast of high caliber actors, the movie has got all the right ingredients to tell a highly captivating story.
Much like the set up of characters and their fantastic contributions to the narrative, the look and atmosphere for the film is just top notch. Relying heavily on visual cues and steady pacing to put the scare in the audience, the film comes off as a more refined piece of cinematic horror rather than a flashy modern mess. With its attention to tone and its doomed scenario, The Sentinel makes a lasting impression that is sure to stick with the audience long after viewing. They don’t make subtle horror movies like this anymore folks, so check this one out as soon as you can. It will be a refreshing pace from the wham, bam, thank you ma’am shit that you’ve come across in recent years. You can thank me later. The Sentinel is an…..

Damn I'm a good looking man.

Now that's one sneaky priest.

Damn lazy kids. Get a job!

I can see you up there pervert!

Paulie want to shut the fuck up?!?!

You know you look ridiculous in that hat.

Hot damn that's a beautiful view.


Your shadow looks a little weird Alison.

Stab him in the head!

Would you mind dressing up in a naughty nun outfit?

God..... Thanks for the sweet stache.

Look at my mustache when I'm talking to you!

At least the mustache is still intact.

This mustache is delicious!

Shit! It's Burgess Meredith and his posse of freaks! RUN!

Keep the light on for me Alison. P.S. You look like shit.

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