Frenzy ★★★½

(very mild spoilers / TW: discussion of sexual violence)

Two times in Frenzy, the camera moves from a confined place to a shot of the busy London streets, where it sits for an uncomfortable amount of time. Uncomfortable, because in both of these instances the viewer has just been made aware of something horrifying that now lies hidden just out of sight, behind a closed door or two. The things behind closed doors are this movie's focal point.

The most interesting thing about Frenzy is the world of Frenzy. In the first 10 minutes, a man tells a horrendous rape joke in the presence of another man and woman, the latter responding with a begrudgingly amused "boys will be boys" look. "I'm always hearing of kinky things," one character tells another. "Sometimes just thinking about the lusts of men makes me want to heave," a man says in resigned cynicism about the state of his own gender. "There are some women who ask for everything they get," a man tells another man with an air of assumption.

This is the world the movie lays out. London is the land of the repressed and perverted and violent. A society that treats all spillover from people's repression as equally taboo and unacceptable loses its ability to discern mere sexual deviance from actual sexual violence, and Hitch purposefully flits back and forth between the two, highlighting the ridiculousness and iniquity of a society being so blinded by prudishness.

This repression and Hitch's provocation of it is littered throughout Frenzy. Comic yet uncomfortable dinner scenes feature a woman serving unpleasant food to her husband who is too "polite" to speak up, who makes great effort to hide his disappointment until it resurfaces in the form of biting remarks towards her (it is also interesting that the dishes themselves are, at least visually, highly primeval -- pig's feet, fish heads, bird's bodies -- and they create a delicious irony in the image of a domesticized, bougie couple with their dinners unwittingly revealing their carnivorial predilections). Even the basic plot premise of there being a "neck-tie murderer" embodies this repression and this contradiction between civility and savagery: a defining clothing accessory of a refined gentleman becomes their tool for murderous rebellion.

The gender politics merely continue the provocation parade. Men are all idiots and assholes who deserve to die. Women are assholes too, or else they are angels who have to die. Mixing both misandry and misogyny into the same film is classic Hitchcock, though Frenzy turns up the dial to 10.

Basically, this is Hitchcock in full troll mode. He was wont to say that getting a reaction was always his main goal as a director, and it looks like Frenzy may be the purest distillation of that motive.

So yes, the world Frenzy lays out is quite interesting and serves as a critically accommodating playground for a good ole' Hitchy murder mystery (which I guess is why I wrote way too much about it!). I just wish I actually liked that mystery more. At least to me, the movie greatly lacks Hitch's usual propulsiveness, and can't fully oblige his usual ability to keep you on your toes. As much fun as it is to see Hitchock in full troll mode, I was left wanting this to feel more like the treading of new ground, and less like the button mashing of all his pet themes.

For Hitchcock fans who enjoy his role of King Provocateur, and who have the luck to not be triggered by sexual violence: highly recommend. For anyone else: can I interest you in another Hitchcock movie?

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