In an attempt to recreate the dwindling feelings of Amityville-style horror left in the corners of our subconscious, and also to help usher in the upcoming spooky season, my boyfriend and I decided to watch Delirium. It is sufficient to say we did not have high expectations; the synopsis is vague, and the cast is little less than star-studded, save for Topher Grace who has admittedly remained one of my favorites since That 70’s Show and Patricia Clarkson from Easy A. Even so, with a synopsis so two-dimensional as: “After being released from a psychiatric hospital, a man comes into his inheritance when his parents die; however, after a series of mysterious events, he comes to the conclusion the house that his parents left him is haunted,” I knew it was going to take more than Topher Grace’s undeniably quirky charm and distinctive wit to intrigue me enough into watching the whole hour and thirty-six minutes.
The attempt was not a futile one. Delirium was eager to show an unhurried start with progressive psychological torture rather than back-to-back jump scares— a different style of horror than Amityville but welcome, nonetheless. Grace’s character, Tom Walker, after returning to his childhood home which he has inherited after his father’s suicide, proves to be a narrator you can grapple with. Tom spent twenty years in a mental institution following a violent crime committed by his older brother Alex and suffers from hallucinations. Without his medication, these hallucinations can worsen and, of course, become indiscernible from reality. For example, Tom begins to fear he is relapsing when he hears noises throughout the house, receives calls from a stranger with a garbled voice, has a vision of a girl being drowned in the indoor pool, and discovers a tongue preserved in a mason jar (all of which he concludes to simply be more hallucinations). In the horror genre, this is an element that causes many to succumb to the twists and turns of the plot, unsure of what is real and what is in the narrator’s head.
It culminates to the viewer being unsure of who on the screen is even real and who or what is happening only in Tom’s head. We are subject to his hallucinations, decisions, actions, and everything that happens to him as a result as well as everything he learns (and boy, does he learn a lot). Personally, as someone who loves film criticism and takes pride in being able to piece together symbols to uncover an ending before it happens, I was practically confounded. A movie has not caught me so off-guard since The Uninvited (another highly recommended film).
The storyline unfolds not slowly, but at a steady pace one would expect from an entire film taking place in a single location. It would be somewhat dishonest of me if I were to say I chose to discuss this movie merely because I liked it; it was one of the best takes on hallucination-involved mental illness I have even seen, so I felt somewhat defensive going onto Rotten Tomatoes after the film had finished and seeing the ‘Tomatometer’ read 0% with an audience rating of 52%. One critic, Brian Orndorf from Blu-ray.com, described the film as a “dull take on encroaching madness and single location hellraising, rendered incomplete by choppy storytelling and an overall drowsiness that makes it difficult to maintain patience with 90 minutes of routine frights.”
I could argue with this one sentence until I was blue in the face, but I will settle for this: choppy storytelling is a tool when your character (the mode through which your audience is receiving information) is blacking out, hallucinating, and over-all unsure of what is happening to himself. It provides the audience with a sense of disruption, feeling unsettled and therefore the perfect avenue for disarming the subconscious. Overall, the film was one extreme for me as it was the other for Orndorf, but I advise you to be the judge. Delirium was a highly recommendable movie that I was on the edge of my seat for, and with October coming up will provide a welcome addition to your scary movie list.