The Attic
directed by George Edwards
(MGM/UA, 1980)

After seeing this mesmerizing yet incredibly depressing film, I will forevermore count Carrie Snodgress among the world's greatest actresses.

The Attic is an incredibly good film, and I admire the courage of the writers and director to let the story play out on its own terms rather than slapping an ending on it designed purely to please the audience. While it may be portrayed as a horror film in some circles, this film is fundamentally a psychological drama, one that mines the darkest depths of human psychology with no restraints whatsoever. It has left me quite depressed, very sad and more than a little angry -- not at the film but at the whole situation in which the poor protagonist finds herself. It's an ultra-rare kind of feeling that few books -- and even fewer movies -- are capable of invoking in the reader or viewer.

Personally, I haven't felt quite like this since reading Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It's one thing for a movie to be so good that you want to watch it again and again -- it's something else entirely for a movie to be so good that you doubt you can ever bring yourself to re-experience it. The Attic is so good at what it does that I'm not sure I can even recommend it to others -- especially those who are feeling depressed or have begun to lose all hope in mankind.

Snodgress is nothing short of perfect in her performance as Louise, the most unfortunate of lost souls, still reeling from the disappearance of her fiance on what was supposed to be their wedding day 19 years earlier. All but enslaved to her miserable, tyrannical father (played by Ray Milland), she really has nothing but the memory of her long-missing fiance to hold on to, especially now that's she's being forced out of her job as a librarian. Surprisingly enough, though, she has found a friend in the young lady who is basically taking her job, and there are times when it looks like she might find some measure of happiness. She gets the pet chimpanzee she's always wanted, for example, and she experiences some moments of bona fide human interaction, all of which lead up to moments of rebellion against her horrible father.

You build your hopes up that, somehow, someway, her long-lost love might even return. If ever a poor soul needed and deserved to have someone come in and save her from a life of misery and sadness, it is Louise.

Some people think The Attic moves too slowly or that nothing really happens until the last 10 minutes. I am not one of those people. This movie -- and Snodgress in particular -- had me mesmerized from the very start, and I daresay that every single second of this film is crucially important, particularly in terms of characterization and atmosphere. I dearly wanted to reach in and save Louise, to hug her closely and tell her that everything would be OK -- all the while knowing that things were not going to be OK at all. The ending, when it comes, is emotionally painful to watch, but I know in my heart that The Attic could not and should not have ended any other way.

The Attic is not a film that should be consigned to the wastebasket of cinematic obscurity. For my money, this is a masterpiece of cinema, one of the starkest and most honest psychological studies ever recorded on film. Even today, some three decades since the movie was made, people should be talking and writing about Carrie Snodgress's incredible performance as poor Louise. In all honesty, I don't know how you could watch The Attic and not be profoundly affected by the experience.

review by
Daniel Jolley

13 November 2010

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