It’s hard to think of Alfred Hitchcock without thinking of sharp strings and an infamous shower scene – namely one of the most memorable scenes in film that has been constantly mimicked but never bettered. Now, the story behind the classic thriller Psycho is brought to the big screen, marking the narrative directorial debut of Sacha Gervasi – best known for the 2008 documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil.
Hitchcock sees Anthony Hopkins playing the Master of Suspense, as he decides to adapt a horror novel called Psycho, based on the crimes of the serial killer Ed Geins. In amidst the troubled production, Hitchcock faces pressure from the studio heads, his cast as well as his wife and collaborative partner Alma (Helen Mirren), while his dedication to the self-financed project grows progressively.
Based on Stephen Rebello’s non-fiction book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,Hitchcock paints itself as an almost entertaining film – that is ‘entertaining’ as in ‘light-hearted.’ Some may perceive this as the wrong tone to adopt when making a biopic about Alfred Hitchcock, whose secretive style of filmmaking always kept filmgoers on their toes. There are occasions of ill-timed and almost unnecessary humour that are designed to lighten the mood, only to bring down the tension that had been building up until that point.
What could have been a return to form for Hollywood veteran Hopkins unfortunately turns sour quite quickly; he doesn’t portray himself as the Master of Suspense as much as present a caricature of the director with slight over-enunciation. The larger-than-life persona adopted on-screen (flirty with female cast, occasionally overenthusiastic) doesn’t exactly paint the picture that we’d expect from a man who directed one of the scariest films of all time, and his imaginary conversations with killer Geins only feeds uncertainty to the nature of Hitchcock’s sinister character.
That being said, Mirren is very understated as Alma Reville, whose loyalty, no-nonsense attitude and personal ambition shows another side to just being Mrs. Hitchcock – giving the film a sense of strength missing from Hopkins. She also represents a modern working woman, in comparison toPsycho‘s actresses Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), who choose motherhood before Hollywood. The actors-playing-actors seem to get more into their respective roles, indulging in high-profile roles without that pressure of being more than what we see in Psycho.
In addition to this, the processes behind the making of Psycho, in particular how Hitchcock captures Leigh’s shrill screams in the classic scene, are certainly intriguing – and when you get to the film’s conclusion, there is a sense of gratifying justification in his unorthodox filmmaking.
A mildly entertaining yet questionably toned film behind a timeless classic. Hitchcock may have right intentions in mind but not the best execution.