Monday, 13 June 2016
Angel Heart (1987)
Harry Angel is a rather down-on-his-luck private investigator in 1950s New York. He accepts a missing person case from a certain Mr Cyphre: to find a former singer named Johnny Favorite, who was injured in the war and has been in a coma ever since. Suddenly it seems Favorite is missing, and Cyphre - who says Favorite owes him certain property - wants to know if the man is alive or dead. This is a question Harry soon finds to be more complicated than he expected, and which launches a neo-noir horror film that is one half excellent and one half mediocre.
On the excellent side, there's a scene in this movie where Robert De Niro is eating a hard boiled egg and is genuinely intimidating in the way he does it. It's a pretty amazing piece of writing, acting and direction. But it wouldn't succeed nearly as well as it does if it was not for the taut, tense atmosphere the film has already generated.
And in the generation of tension and unease, the first hour or so of Angel Heart does everything right. There's a constant sense that something is off; that danger is lurking and that at any moment blood could be all over the walls ... and the script very sensibly never gives you that moment. It never even hints at it. And it certainly never wastes it on the brief thrill of a jump scare. Instead it just keeps applying the pressure, building up the suspense for the moment when things will snap.
Unfortunately, when the film finally does decide to pull the trigger, it misfires. It's a real shame, because it had been truly skilful film-making until that point. But well, once the film gets to its second sex scene, what had previously been deft and incisive becomes rather more mundane and average.
If you're at all a student of how films generate tension and unease, then Angel Heart is definitely worth your time, both for its successes and failures. Flawed though it may be, it's also worth a look if you're just in the market for a scary movie in general, presuming you're not easily shocked.