Phenomena Review

Whether it’s the baffling soundtrack (tracks by Iron Maiden and Motorhead are out of place and far too loud in certain scenes), the girl controls insects plot,Donald Pleasence in a wheelchair with a Scottish accent or perhaps the monkey servant, Phenomena has always stood out for its strangeness, even in a career as fascinatingly odd as Argento’s.

Jennifer Connelly plays the lead named, in what is perhaps the film’s only unimaginative moment, Jennifer. Jennifer is daughter of a famous actor and is sent away from home to a rural boarding school where she is immediately treated unfairly and like an outsider by the school’s strict principal. The area she moves to is also being terrorized by a serial killer who is preying on young girls from the school. Very soon after moving there she befriends Professor John McGregor (Donald Pleasence), an expert in bugs and other creatures and the trainer of the aforementioned chipanzee servant. The UK cover for the film, at the time released as in a heavily cut form as Creepers, even featured an image of the chimpanzee wielding a blade in a incredibly memorable but misleading cover.

After the death of more young girls Jennifer begins to come close to finding out who is responsible and in the film’s thrilling and crazed climax she comes face to face with the disturbing truth. On the way to this revelation she also comes to understand the special power that she holds over insects and the film features many striking scenes as swarms of insects are commanded by Jennifer.

Connelly clearly had to suffer in Phenomena to achieve some of the insect effects and it is clear from the interviews that everyone in the crew was impressed with her commitment to the role and the level of professionalism for someone so young. Her hard work pays off as Jennifer is a thoroughly engaging character and Connelly portrays the strong and dynamic but vulnerable character incredibly well. It is her solid performance that helps centre the film and stop it from derailling too much, despite its many twists and sudden plot reveals.

Unfortunately Connelly is not quite enough to completely hold together the out of control plot though and the script is one area where the film falls down. The third act feels almost completely detached from the rest of the film and even though these bizarre turns are enjoyable and elicit many what the..? reactions, a tighter execution and a more ruthless edit could have actually made for a film which still retained the excess and absurdity that adds to the enjoyment of Phenomena but also succeeded in being a more convincing and compelling piece of storytelling.

Although not quite representative of Argento’s most impressive period, Phenomena is still striking and Argento’s eye for startling horror scenes and his ability to create a strong atmospheric experience is evident here. Phenomena is more memorable for the early performance by Connelly though and its more bizarre elements than the quality of the filmmaking, Phenomena is not one of Argento’s finest but it is an enjoyable and inventive film and falls very far from being grouped in with his lesser works.

A slightly different version of this review was originally posted at HeyUGuys.