Possible spoilers, Don! Hit me with your possible spoilers!
‘Alrighty then’, as a profound man once said. We’re now thirty films into my 250 onslaught, and this is the first entry from one director David Lynch. Hoo, boy. Let me talk to you about David Lynch. He’s the creative and administrative force behind the likes of Twin Peaks, Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive (those last two being films I’ve still yet to see on my list, though I’ve tried sitting through E-Head previously, and failed). If you know anything about these works, you’ll probably know what to expect from something like Blue Velvet. It’s gonna be a visual and audial brain-melter, with metaphors galore and plenty of kooky characters with thin, unexplicable motives. These aren’t necessarily bad things, though. The worst thing a film can be is unmemorable. And believe you me, BV is a two-hour experience in ridding yourself of nerves that you’ll barely be able to recoup.
The story concerns small-town American teenager, Jeffrey (Kyle McLachlan), who works at his local DIY store while his father recovers from an accident. While throwing stones at a wooden shack (don’t ask),the lad comes across someone’s ear, sliced off and nestled amongst the grass. Naturally, he informs his local sherriff-type and is told to stay out of the matter for his own good. But, of course, he doesn’t. The sherriff’s daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern) tells Jeffrey that a singer by the name of Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rosselini) is involved in the lughole mystery, and this spurs the hapless lad on to snoop into Vallens’ life, with more than a few nods to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, eventually leading him into the seedy underbelly of the town he calls his home. Jeffrey gets entangled with local crime lord and general psycho Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) as he grows closer to Dorothy, putting his life, his sanity, relationship with Sandy and the case itself into jeopardy.
It’s a pretty basic story, and it’s a pretty solid one. A classic tale of protagonist character taking matters of good versus evil into his own hands, only for it to lead to more drama for himself and those close to him. While there’s not much of a mystery (it’s pretty much sussed about half an hour in) as Jeffrey would have you and I believe, the journey – from Jeff’s initial fascination, to obsession, to the league of dominoes that lead to the climax – forms the bulk of the plot, and provides for some particularly intense drama.
Even more so, considering the direction. May I remind you, this is a David Lynch picture. The dialogue and interactions are, for the majority of the time, incredibly muted. At least three-quarters of spoken dialogue is whispered, and at that, it’s incredibly simple – none of the characters nor the story warrant overcomplicated spiel or interaction, and this is something Lynch has clearly run with. The first third of the film is very quiet, very awkward, and very tense. It’s almost as is normality is being pastiched, not so much emulated. If you get what I mean.
And then we have the bad guys. Dennis Hopper is psychotic. Psychotic, animalistic, and without a train of logical thought on his tracks. Him and his goons are motiveless, soulless and nightmarish, subjecting Dorothy and her family, as well as Jeffrey, to nights of wanton violence and depravity, without a passing moment of care or judgement. Lynch depicts his antagonists as fearless, automated eaters of souls, and the events unfolding from Dorothy discovering Jeffrey in the closet onwards peel away gradually like unlinked dream sequences, unveiling to Jefrey that not everything is as simple or good-natured in this world as he or Sandy would want, nor would believe. The whole picture, I guess, is a metaphor for loss of innocence, or for the dawn of cynicism. Whichever. I’m not fussy.
This is an absolutely terrifying film. It’s quiet, it’s moody, and for the most part it’s pretty hard to see where it’s headed. I can’t fault direction or characterisation as far as building tension or instilling fear goes, but the only big stumbling blocks for me with Velvet lie in, again, length. It’s two hours long. I don’t think I’ve done a review yet where I don’t criticise run-time, but here, it’s definitely justified. I understand Lynch has tried to up the ante by drawing things out as much as possible, but there are literally no expenses spared. There’s a five-minute sequence of Jeffrey walking to Dorothy’s apartment. Agreed, this builds suspense, its builds tension – but it happens way too often. It gets annoying. The introduction of Frank and his heavies, for me, fleshes out the chill factor far more than fifteen minutes plodding down the street does. But, again, that’s me. This film is more frightening than The Thing. Yep. I just wrote that.
PROS: Great, compact little story. Bizarre, twisted characters. Tense, and in places terrifying. Good cast.
CONS: Has a tendency to plod. Some of the metaphorical stuff will likely alienate a general audience.
7/10. Memorable and haunting. I’m glad I watched it, but I’m not sure I’d watch it again so soon. I need to bleach the… striking… image of Dennis Hopper leering about with an oxygen mask out of my retinas first…