There is a unique bizarreness to Jerzy Skolimowski’s classic arthouse horror film. It’s a mysterious, bewildering, shocking, confusing and kinetic film. Yet for all its unusual qualities, it is a thoroughly intriguing piece of cinema.
Set in quaint rural Devon, the story centres around a couple that’s normal life is disturbed by an enigmatic traveller named Crossley (Alan Bates). With a theatrical presence to him, Crossley tells his innocent hosts Anthony (John Hurt) and Rachel (Susannah York) of his 18 years spent with aboriginals in Australia. The centerpiece to his story is the ancient technique he mastered in the wilderness – the technique to kill with a piercing shout. Obsessed with sounds and music, Anthony persuades Crossley to demonstrate his skill on the wild shoreline. In doing so, a series of strange and frightening events begin to occur.
A film of labyrinthine structure, is a testing and thoroughly unnerving experience. Jumping between flashbacks and a psychiatric ward in which Crossley retells the story in Devon, there is a genuine sense of confusion. We are perplexed by barrages of images and a nonlinear plot. Yet the confusion is necessary, for the central mood of Skolimowski’s film is one not outright fear but of deep uncertainty and discomfort. Indeed, a considerable amount of anxiety comes from the disjointed nature of the story, the clipped dialogue and the irregular characters.
The disconcerting mood to the piece goes even further. Much like Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now , The Shout is not reliant on using the standard tropes of the horror genre to scare. Graphic violence and jump scares are not used to create cheap tension or suspense. Instead, it is the possibility of these moments happening that worries. We as an audience are not terrified by Crossley’s shout itself, we are frightened by the possibility of it being true.
While it may not be an easy watch, The Shout is a truly exemplary piece of classic British horror. With a great performance by the main trio, it stands as an ambiguous but terrific piece of cinema. Taking a quaint setting and muddying it with an element of chaos, it has an itching, nervy quality to it, forever teetering on the edge of some truly horrible event. Its brilliance lies in its curious form and unpredictability.