John Skillpa (Cillian Murphy) has been hopelessly damaged by the monstrous abuse his mother inflicted on him. As a result, he now has two separate personalities: John and Emma. John is a terminally shy bank clerk who exists as of 8:15 in the morning and for the duration of the work day. Emma takes care of the domestic chores and leave notes and meals for John. But one day, while Emma is doing the laundry, a derailed caboose blasts through the fence, revealing her existence to the town of Peacock. Everyone assumes she is John’s wife. Coaxed out of her shell by Susan Sarandon, Emma gradually blossoms, much to the distress of John. When Ellen Page shows up with a young child and a dark revelation from John’s past, the two personalities find themselves moving closer and closer towards a violent confrontation.
It is a testament to the work of director/co-writer Michael Lander and of Cillian Murphy (not for the first time making effective use of his androgynous looks) that one finds oneself increasingly viewing Skillpa as two entirely separate people as, bit by by, drop by drop, the suspense builds. Sympathy shifts back and forth between Emma and John, and by the end one can no more imagine Skillpa as a unified whole than one can decide which of the two halves is the “real” person. Touching and tense, this is a bizarre cross between Psycho and Our Town, and it somehow works very well indeed.
Many of the scenes are rather dimly lit. All the same, the picture did feel a little bit more murky than perhaps the original print might have called for. Still, the blacks are strong, as are the flesh tones, and grain is not a problem. The aspect ratio is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. A very solid transfer, then, but not quite in the realm of perfection.
Great sound design is given a great treatment. The opening nightmarish whispers skitter about the viewing area, trapping the viewer in much the same way that Skillpa’s mother trapped him. The music, too, is nicely handled. It is never overbearing, but it is calculated to provoke anxiety, and the surround mix gives it exactly the right energy level to achieve its ends. The dialogue is clear and free of distortion.
Alternate Ending: Rather darker than the one that was finally used.
Deleted Scenes: Four of them.
Making-of Featurette: (21:21) A solid example of its type, and a bit more intelligent than many, perhaps reflecting the film’s indie pedigree.
Cillian Murphy Rehearsal Scenes: (3:20) Murphy improvising in character.
Script. In PDF form.
A most interesting variation on the Norman Bates story, one that makes us care deeply for its main character, who is both protagonist and antagonist, and which personality is which remains an open question for much of the film.