Struggling novelist Whitley Strieber takes his family and a couple of friends up to a cabin he owns in the mountains for a nice weekend trip. Everything seems to be going well until nightfall. After everyone’s asleep in bed Strieber wakes up, sure somebody else in in the cabin. After some time of not being able to sleep, the entire cabin is bathed in a blinding white light and he spies someone looking at him from the doorway. Strieber chalks it all up to a dream, but the next morning his friends reveal that they too woke up to this strange white light. Whitley tells them it’s just a dream brought on by the security lights outside, but his friends are so creeped out by the experience that they insist on being taken home early. Strieber convinces himself that they’re all just freaking out over nothing. But as time goes on the dreams continue and Whitley begins to wonder if what happened to him was really a dream at all.
Communion is based on a book by author Whitley Strieber, supposedly about a similar “real life experience” he himself endured while vacationing with his family. The book was a bonafide, if not controversial, hit. It was a best seller and got a lot of press thanks to the words “true story” emblazoned on the front. In a lot of ways, it was the Amityville Horror of its day.
So, naturally, it was decided it would be made into a movie. On paper, everything sounds good: It’s based on a New York Times Bestseller, the screenplay was written and produced by the original author, it’s about aliens, it stars Christopher Walken, the music was composed by….Eric Clapton?
Were-…were you bored that week, sir?
Unfortunately, I don’t feel it lives up to the sum of its parts.
Let’s start off with the good: The movie is trippy as hell. After the aliens show up the film maintains a consistent dreamlike state for the duration of its runtime. Did that really happen? Is it a dream? A hallucination? It’s often hard to tell, even when scenes are bookended by the mundane events of, say, going to the doctor or a school play. It makes the bulk of the film feel a bit surreal and that’s a vibe I can appreciate.
The film also does a good job of building up the tension and dread during the first two alien encounters. Even though I knew they were coming, I found them to be genuinely creepy. This is in part thanks to the practice of ‘less is more.’ You may know they’re coming, but you’re also not sure what to expect, so when the flashy light show stops and there’s a moment of silence and suddenly this slowly peeks around the corner-
I was surprised how effective it was the first two times. (Though I’m fully aware it may not look that way from the screenshot.)
Now, why do I keep saying ‘first two times?’ Well, that’s why I brought up the practice of ‘less is more.’ Because as the movie continues you see more and more of these guys and every time you see them their effectiveness goes down exponentially and you end up with scenes like this:
But Communion is actually less about the aliens and more about the effect they are having on Whitley. Here, Christopher Walken plays Whitley Strieber playing Christopher Walken. Walken is here being his typical Walken self. He talks to himself, he yells at his computer while performing hand gestures, he almost burns down the apartment, he dances with a dead duck.
And all this within the first ten minutes.
Basically, he’s playing Strieber as a loving and caring husband and father with a lot of eccentricities. This is all well and good, except a big part of the narrative is how Strieber goes from a very normal (if quirky) guy and morphs into a bit of an unhinged loon as he slowly realizes he’s being visited by these aliens. On a sanity scale of 1 to 10, it’s the kind of performance that requires you to slowly shift from one side to the other so the audience can see the stark contrast from the beginning of the film to the end. Instead of going from, say, a 3 to a 9, Walken starts off at 5 and ends up around 7. He just starts off a little crazy and ends up just slightly crazier. It’s not portrayed as the dramatic transformation it should have been and instead just comes across as someone who maybe needs to up his med dose a little bit.
On second thought, maybe it should be doubled…
By the halfway point, the film gives up any pretense of being a thriller and fully embraces the crazy dreamlike state it’s hinted at for the first half. The dream sequences (or flashbacks, whatever) ramp up, there’s a lot more ethereal imagery and we see a lot more of the aliens.
Of course that last part, as I mentioned, doesn’t do the movie any favors. Not only does seeing them take away the dread they previously invoked, but the more we see them the stranger they, and the movie itself, seem to get. Everything just goes from tense to bizarre. First Walken quips at them while they’re giving him an anal probe. Then he lounges around with their heads while reading a magazine-
– and by the end Walken goes to confront them only to end up awkwardly dancing around with them.
I think that shrug perfectly represents how the
filmmakers felt about this film towards the end
It’s like the movie just seems to throw its hands up in the air and say “whatevs!” Thusly, the ending ends up being rather anticlimactic, with Whitley just reluctantly accepting that these beings (the film doesn’t like to say aliens for some reason) are visiting him and he’s just going to write a book about it. Writer’s block cured! Happy ending! I guess.
So, yes, the movie is odd. It’ got an interesting premise and part of the execution is actually pretty good (the use of light and shadow at the beginning is used quite well.) But eventually the direction starts to fall apart and it goes from a semi-serious film to one that just doesn’t seem to care all that much. The acting is decent and Walken, as always, is fun to watch, but he doesn’t quite go far enough in his portrayal of Whitley to make the character fully effective. Despite being practical effects, which I love, the aliens wind up looking too goofy to be convincing. If you like alien films or Christopher Walken, than you might get some enjoyment out of this. Just be sure to know before going in that it’s a bit of an unbalanced oddity.