The Comfort of Strangers (1990) **** Dual Format release

September 19th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Paul Schrader | Writer: Harold Pinter | Cast: Christopher Walken, Natasha Richardson, Helen Mirren, Rupert Everett | US Thriller | 104′

Perhaps better named ‘Never Trust a Stranger’ this unsettling cult thriller sees Colin (Everett) and Mary (Richardson) head to Venice to spice up their jaded sex life. But the trip will also lead to tragedy putting an end to the sensual piquancy they hoped for.

Harold Pinter wrote a winning script that explores the more exotic avenues of sexuality through the couple’s chance meeting with a generous but often brutally playful aristocratic Robert (Walken) and his submissive wife Carol (Mirren). The sultry Venetian ambiance lulls them into a devil may care sense of adventure as they endure a bizarre evening with this strange couple in their magnificent palazzo after which Colin and Mary discover a new zest for each other that melds with obliging uneasiness to comply with Robert’s wishes. Not put off by this second encounter, they surrender to a third get together with devastating consequences. There is seemingly no limit to their naivity which can only be put down to a distinct lack of judgement, and a foolhardiness resulting from their innate English politeness. Schrader’s gracefully paced slow-burner exerts a beguiling yet sinister torque on the viewer, while impressive performances make for an engrossing if unsettling watch, amplified, in hindsight, by Richardson’s untimely death less than a decade later. This is a stifling erotic thriller enriched by Dante Spinotti’s camerawork surrounding us in the richly torpid environment that is Venice in Summer, Gianni Quaranta’s sensuous sets showcasing scenes of stultifying horror. MT

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