Dr. Samuel Fry (Michael Maloney) has reached an impasse in his treatment of Veronica Bloom (Emmanuelle Vaugier). She's a former psychotic whose failure to progress without the heavy use of drugs prompts Dr. Fry's superiors to dismiss her from hospital care. Fueled by his attraction to her. Dr. Fry takes her on a trip across the countryside to an obscure, eccentric asylum run by Dr. Langston (Patrick McGoohan). Dr. Fry hopes that Dr. Langston's new techniques will be the solution he's looking for, but he's dragged down a rabbit hole of the extreme and bizarre, led by paraplegic patient Myrna (Amanda Plummer), who exerts a psychological command over the other patients.
Hysteria is a film that can't quite find the right balance between the bizarre and the intriguing. It's the kind of film that opens with a man fleeing Dr. Langston's asylum in his car, screaming as he barrels down the road at 100MPH, wrestling with his own arm, before flipping the car and ultimately killing himself by sticking his lighter in a pool of gasoline, then immediately segues into some sort of twisted love story between a crazy person and her doctor. The film jumps around, never quite settling on a particular rhythm or style, happy to peer into whatever nook and cranny Daalder's mind drifts to at a given moment. Although many of these flights of fancy work themselves out as having importance, it can seem as if Daalder is including weird things for the sake of weirdness, like some kind of David Lynch wannabe.
Dr. Langston's method of therapy is to induce a supernatural form of group psychosis on his patients. He implants a little chip into each patient's head, which apparently allows their spirits or souls to exist in every one of the patients at once. Although Dr. Fry is determined to try and save Veronica from the clutches of Langston, Myrna, and the rest of the asylum's inhabitants, he has to try and locate Veronica's mind, which has become untethered from her body. While Fry fights to do so, Langston attempts to demonstrate how his theories work through a number of bizarre sequences, including a strange spoken word / dance performance that eventually concludes with Langston playing the bongo drums while Veronica dances. This section of the film is arguably the least interesting, too rooted in Daalder's indulgence in being strange.
The film is a little more interesting when exploring the nuances of the asylum's hive mind, especially in the confrontations between Myrna and Dr. Fry. Myrna challenges Dr. Fry's ideas of love and the decisions he's made regarding Veronica's treatment. At times, the thread can seem like another slice of the strangeness, especially when Plummer performs a dance sequence of her own, stumbling on uncooperative legs while Dr. Fry sneers at her. Myrna also instigates a surreal orgy scene, which is surprisingly sensual despite drowning in off-putting oddness. However, the scene's meaning is transformed during a later conversation between Fry and Myrna that marks the most interesting moment in the movie...one which is sadly defused by an awkward stunt bit that requires such a leap of imagination in terms of physics that it drowns out whatever else Daalder was trying to accomplish.
Surrounding these bits are disappointingly conventional plot mechanics, including Dr. Fry fleeing to a police station, where he distrusts the one officer on duty. Maloney's performance of this scene, and in most scenes, is incredibly flat-footed -- for most of the film's running time, he runs around with wild eyes, disheveled hair, and an aggressive grimace, insisting he'll get his way without any effectiveness to back it up. Were the Fry role cast better, Plummer and McGoohan would have something better to work off of, but Maloney contributes to the "conventional thriller" feel of too many scenes. There's a compelling short film somewhere in Hysteria, but what surrounds it is often such a struggle to enjoy that it hardly seems worth the effort.
The art for Hysteria is very purple, with the effect and colorization offered as an attempt to cover up the fact that it's pretty traditional floating heads (complete with a list of credits for each actor). The disc comes in a cheap Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Cult Epics presents Hysteria with a 1.78:1 1080p AVC encode. At first, the picture looks a bit compromised, with crushed whites and blacks in the bright outdoors. Detail seems smudged and limited, and nicks, scratches, and cigarette burns are common. When Dr. Fry arrives at the asylum, however, the picture oddly starts to improve, with the mood lighting bringing out a bit more depth and detail in an otherwise flat picture. What initially appears grainless is suddenly somewhat saturated. It's a dated master presented as well as possible -- a decidedly mixed bag. A DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is a little on the muffled side; like the picture, it feels as if it could've used a fresh coat of paint, but generally sounds okay. The film's surreal sequences provide plenty of opportunities for surround effects, but the separation is limited, with much of the effects and music simply coming through the front. When the rear speakers do light up, it adds a nice sense of depth, but it only happens once or twice. There is also one passage near the beginning where one channel cuts out entirely, rendering the remaining sound oddly quiet. Unfortunately, no captions or subtitles are included on the disc.
Cult Epics has produced an all-new extra for this Blu-Ray release, an interview (31:28) between director / screenwriter Rene Daalder and actress Amanda Plummer, in which they discuss their impressions of the finished film (Plummer has just rewatched it). It's a nicely relaxed chat where both participants bounce thoughts and feelings off of one another. The one major flaw here is the absolute excess of film clips, which make up at least a third of the piece's running time. An original theatrical trailer is also included.
Hysteria is a very unusual film that will only truly appeal to an extremely specific segment of the audience. It's admirably ambitious, but the bulk of the film ignores Daalder's more intriguing ideas and comes off either too conventional or too aggressively weird. This Blu-Ray from Cult Epics offers a middling presentation (although, probably the best the film is ever likely to get), but increases the value with one brand-new extra. Rent it.
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