Elite Entertainment // 1989 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // July 11th, 2000
Dream or delusion?
Communion is one of those movies that you either end up shaking your head in laughter after seeing or maybe, just maybe get something out of. It is a surrealistic tale ambiguously told on the subject of alien abduction. It's sort of Dali meets the X-Files, as to our protagonist the aliens are real, but the scenes with them are so surreal that it seems to be a dream or a delusion on his part. Christopher Walken manages to keep himself from looking silly as the man who believes that he had been abducted, on more than one occasion, by aliens. The writer of the best selling novel and the screenplay is writing about himself, in what he claims to be a true story. The movie, however, leaves whether it is true or not in question, maintaining a somewhat unbiased approach. Elite has released this lesser known film on DVD with a very nice special edition.
Whitley Streiber (Walken) is a struggling writer in upstate New York, with a nice wife and son, living a pretty normal slice of American life in a cabin in the woods. When friends come to stay for the weekend, something happens that confuses and upsets the visitors, as it does Whitley himself. Very bright lights can be seen through the windows, and Whitley seems sure he saw faces inside the house that could not be human. The guests are so upset they leave early, but Whitley by now has pretty much convinced himself that it was a dream and there is a perfectly good explanation for the lights. Dreams haunt him, however, and he feels his world and his grip on sanity challenged as he comes to believe that something really did happen both on that night and a later evening. It is a classic tale of alien abduction, as told by thousands of people, including medical experiments and the like. Finally he seeks a psychiatrist, and under hypnosis he has a truly chilling tale to tell. To lend plausibility to the tale, his wife and son also seem to be aware if not conscious of their late night visitors.
This leads to the struggle for truth, including therapy and meeting with an abduction support group. The tale is told without prejudice or bias, and certainly there is room for another interpretation other than the existence of aliens who steal people from their beds for testing.
This sense of ambiguity is what makes this film very different and hard to categorize. You can't truly call it science fiction, or anything else. What I can say is Christopher Walken, who is no stranger to strange roles, carries off his part very well, in fact carries the whole picture on his shoulders. The supporting cast is adequate, if not outstanding, and we are left with a human drama amidst some very not-human scenarios.
I've watched the film twice and I still can't truly tell you whether I liked it or not. Certainly it has elements that I liked, but it is an uncomfortable feeling I get from watching it. Certainly we like our answers to be neat and tidy, and surrealism is not for everyone. It reached the borderline between too avant-garde for my tastes and just right.
Elite specializes normally in cult horror films, and this one is a cult film with horrific elements. It is a film that the UFO crowd has enthusiastically embraced and probably that alone has kept it from total obscurity. This is the first disc I've reviewed from Elite, and if everything they do is up to these standards I would not be disappointed. They've done a very good job with an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer, with a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and substantial collection of extras.
The picture is very good, with great color and care taken with the compression to avoid artifacts. The film is 12 years old and does show a slight amount of wear and blemish, which is the chief flaw with it, though it is not serious. The image is decently sharp, without blurring or noticeable defect. Overall it is very good, but not outstanding.
The soundtrack is 5.1 remixed from 2.0, and has a very natural sound without trying to force the surrounds into overdrive. Eric Clapton's rather mysterious and uncharacteristic score is rendered very nicely from all corners, and dialogue is always clear and free of distortion. Subtle use of ambient sound and effects are the rest of what you get from the rear channels, but it is a very nice listening environment. No complaints here.
I still have to wonder why Princess Bride gets to come out with a dated transfer and no extras but studios like Elite can give this much lesser known film the red carpet treatment. The extras are substantial, beginning with a commentary track with director Philipe Mora, along with UFO expert and magazine editor William Birnes. The track is different than most of us are used to, as it only wanders back and forth from the film itself to the subject of alien abduction in general, with Birnes providing the evidence and Mora playing skeptic and devil's advocate.
Next are about 15 minutes of outtakes, which are really extended cuts of scenes in the film, where Walken tries different things while the camera keeps running. These are the scenes with the aliens and dream sequences, where the unreality quotient is quite high. Apparently Mora just let Walken try everything and then picked the parts he liked most and cut them into the finished film. Some promotional footage with interview clips of Walken and the real-life Whitley Schreiber is also included, along with photo gallery and storyboards. An excerpt from Mora's next film According to Occam's Razor where you see a depiction of removal of an alien implant is next, along with two theatrical trailers in rather poor shape, but widescreen.
I'm still not sure if I liked the film. My first impression was "weird." One thing I can say is that about half of the alien special effects are quite lame, looking like obvious dolls that don't even really articulate. There are two types of aliens in the film, and one set is actually pretty good while the other looks very fake. Mora decided not to use any optical effects, and it shows; though in 1988 I'm not sure how convincing he could have made the aliens look with effects anyway. Still I've seen much better.
As for the disc, no subtitles means no hard-of-hearing people can enjoy the film, which is a mistake, and I'll keep pressuring studios to include captioning on every disc.
If the subject matter of alien abduction interests you, and you aren't looking for a sci-fi thriller that pits the evil aliens bent on world domination against a stalwart hero, or for a friendly huggable alien who just wants to go home, then this might be your cup of tea. I'd recommend a rental, though if you like the film the disc absolutely warrants purchase. There is a very nice picture, sound, and interesting extras that definitely make this worth your money, assuming you'd like the film itself.
Elite is congratulated on a fine effort, and Christopher Walken continues to keep the respect of this court. Whether the aliens are real or not, this film tries to make you aware of what some people have been talking about and seem to genuinely believe.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Elite Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track
* Promotional Materials
* Still Gallery