What is up with COMMUNION, the 1989 CHRISTOPHER WALKEN movie based on WHITLEY STRIEBER‘s best seller about alien abduction? A thread on IMDb’s discussion board for the film entitled “Worth seeing for one scene” currently has 91 responses. Somebody hit a nerve. The scene in question takes place early in the film where WALKEN, as STRIEBER, wakes up in the middle of the night and wonders aloud if there is another presence in the room. His suspicion is validated in the form of a half obscured, dark-eyed alien face staring back at him. Many who had watched the film as children claim that this scene still remains the scariest that they have ever witnessed, some revealing that it still haunts them even to this very day. It is undeniably eerie, but its real strength lies in the fact that it strikes a familiar, recognizable cord. Who amongst us, especially as children, has not awoken in the dark with just such a feeling? Squinting our eyes, trying to make out shapes, perhaps not being too comforted by what we imagine we see lurking in the shadows.
The fact that the scene occurs early on before the movie itself has had time to lose the audience’s faith in what it’s selling only adds to its other worldly power. For COMMUNION is such a bizarre, I should say “experience” rather than film that many viewers certainly WILL be throwing in the towel and jumping off this runaway train before the end credits roll. I myself could never put my glowing E.T. finger on whether the movie is an out-and-out hilarious disaster of epic proportions or a well calculated assault on human consciousness. When you consider that director PHILIPPE MORA is also responsible for THE HOWLING 2: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF signs point to the former, but yet I’m still undecided. True, MORA does the unthinkable by allowing WALKEN free reign to riff and improvise as he sees fit. As endlessly fascinating as this is, and WALKEN is never more lovable than he is in this picture, the unleashing of the Mad Hatter tends to work as a reality vacuum throughout the film. Was this his intention? MORA must be aware of what he’s creating, there is nary a shot in the film that does not have some sort of unsettling malevolent object hiding in the corner and there’s a willful use of disjointed angles and discomforting close-ups throughout.
Exposing WALKEN‘s brilliant lunacy is not difficult, but MORA is somehow able to make the usually dignified LINDSAY CROUSE seem equally certifiable. Are the maddening improvisations between the two stars meant to add realism or abolish it? Trust me, if I started quoting the strange interactions between the two, we’d be here all day. By film’s end, they’re looking straight at the camera and babbling abstractions like drunk relatives whose car keys need to be taken away. The audience has three choices, dismiss the entire affair as trash, begin jolting down the dialogue and form a ROCKY HORROR type cult complete with sold out midnight showings, or simply succumb to this surreal, dimension-shattering celluloid DMT trip. I do believe if you allow it, this film, like the alien invaders who occupy it, will “break you.” (Perhaps COMMUNION is the dreamer and you are the dream). I am prepared to back up that assertion with photographic evidence. Do the below un-doctored pictures look like they came from a film that is NOT capable of pushing sensitive souls over the edge?
Whether the film is “good” or “bad” to me, finally, is a non-issue. COMMUNION obviously exists on more than one plane at once, it’s a floor wax AND a delicious desert topping. It’s a jack in the box with YOUR face on it, a clockwork banana peel, a hoot owl in spats dancing the Bossa nova while singing WHITE CHRISTMAS and delivering an unwanted anal probe as a shadow passes over the moon. It doesn’t make rational sense, and why should it? Neither does that presence that wakes you up in the middle of the night and stares at you from across the room…
Several films have been made about aliens and their abductees, but COMMUNION plows its own private psychological terrain, ultimately owing more to KEN RUSSELL than STEPHEN SPIELBERG. It’s nuts, it’s eccentric, and it’s far too freaky to ever garner mainstream appeal (then again, that was probably once the consensus about WALKEN). Ironically, once you realize it is an internal rather than external journey, the universe it presents you with expands greatly. The aliens may look like strung marionettes and CROUSE‘s hypnosis session a discarded MAD TV skit, but no matter how hard I’m laughing throughout, I’m always left wonderfully dazed and confused. Another director could have possibly made a more distinguished film out of this material, but really what fun would that be? Besides, if the response on IMDb is any indication, COMMUNION succeeded with flying colors in at least one scene. I may hate myself in the morning, but go ahead, count me in amongst the permanently altered believers.
Note: Just like every film ever made, COMMUNION is even better in Spanish.