Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson, 1943)

The Seventh Victim isn’t the most satisfying of Val Lewton’s great films - the narrative feels overly condensed in some ways and oddly cluttered in others (injudicious editing may apparently have played a part in this)  – and yet it may leave the most complexly troubled aftertaste of any of them. There’s nothing supernatural in the film, but it’s suffused with a longing to transcend and escape – in its most benign form into the kind of playful poetry that attaches a narrative to a spotlight on the skyline; more darkly, into devil worship, although the adherence to Satan seems less significant than the unity of the group itself, and of the meting out of the death penalty to those who break its rules. Released in 1943, the film doesn’t explicitly reflect on the war, but it feels gripped throughout by threat, by a danger of being undermined from within by collaborators with an external enemy, and by persistent uncertainty about the best form of response. The ending is particularly bleak – Jacqueline, whose unexplained disappearance drives the early part of the narrative (her younger sister comes to New York in search of her, rapidly becoming suffused in Jacqueline’s world to the point of falling in love with her husband), escapes the pressure from the cult to become the “seventh victim” of its fatal doctrines and walks out alive, only to succumb on the same night to her recurring obsession with suicide. This doesn’t quite mark the film as an exercise in mere futility – other characters follow a more positive arc – but the film is much more an exercise in capture than in escape; eeriest of all is the sense that Jacqueline’s action constitutes a sort of triumphant fulfilment of destiny, insofar as she died on her own gloomy terms, not on anyone else’s.   

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