Director: Philippe Mora
Writers: Whitley Strieber (book), Whitley Strieber (screenplay)
Stars: Christopher Walken, Lindsay Crouse and Frances Sternhagen
Communion is a film based on a book by Whitley Strieber, supposedly, the book is based on ‘real life experiences’ about an alien abduction that Strieber suffered from while vacationing with his family in the woods; and so you know how that goes…it could be total bullshit, or it could be true. Who the hell knows with these things? One could safely say that Communion is the ‘Amityville Horror’ of science fiction. Remember that whole thing about The Amityville Horror? How the film was based on a book that detailed the ‘ real life’ supernatural experiences of a family in Long Island? I’ve done my fair share of explorations on that whole Amityville thing, and to be honest, I came to the conclusion that it was just a get rich quick scheme by all those involved, and to their credit, it worked. The Amityville Horror (1977) scared audiences shitless back in the 70’s, I know cause I was a kid. And I was horrified by that film! In this sense, The Amityville Horror, be it true or not, was a win-win situation for all those involved. The book was a best seller, and the film went on to be one of those memorable haunted house films that’s still talked about to this day. Hell, it even spawned a remake. Why is Communion similar to The Amityville Horror (1979)?
It’s similar, because it has the same kind of story behind it’s production. Strieber’s book became a #1 New York Times Bestseller, it was labeled a “controversial” book. Same as with the Amityville book, there was this whole “did it really happen or not” vibe to it that fact that the book had the words “a true story” prominently plastered on the covers made it a sensation. Because you all know, saying that a story is based on true events will almost certainly assure a boost in sales on any book. And so, the book became a hit and the inevitable film began production; with the right amount of ‘buzz’ around it, this film could become a huge hit. The question on everyones mind was if the film would be worth a damn. Well, this Film Connoisseur decided to check Communion out, just to see if all the hoopla was worth it. Personally, I don’t give a damn if the stories true or not, I just wanted to see a good alien abduction movie. So, was it a good one?
Communion tells the tale of Whitley Strieber, a writer, a husband and a family man. One day Whitley decides to take his family and a couple of friends out to the country for some rest and relaxation. Whitley has a cabin out in the woods, the perfect place for a weekend getaway. Whitley has the whole place rigged up with a security system, if anything weird happens these huge lights turn on. So that night, after everyone is settled and partied out, they all go to sleep. Suddenly, in the middle of the night a huge burst of light engulfs the entire house! Whitley wakes from his bed and sees a strange creature in the shadows…but is it real? The next morning Whitley wants to act like it was all just a bad dream he had, but everyone in the house has experienced it; how could it be a dream?
So basically, this is one of those movies that’s more about what happens to the abducted than about the aliens themselves. You know, kind of like Fire in the Sky (1993) where that lumberjack gets abducted by aliens? By the way I’ll just save you some time and let you know that Fire in the Sky is a far better film than this one. Fire in the Sky feels as if someone saw Communion and said “let’s do this the right way” The problems with Communion for me are many, but at the same time, it had some good things going for it. But first the bad: Philippe Mora is the director of this film, and I don’t know if you guys have ever heard of him, but this next couple of words should be enough for the hairs on the back of your head to stand up: he’s the director behind Howling II: You’re Sister’s a Werewolf (1985) and Howling III: The Marsupials (1987). Now, I’ve never seen Howling II, but if Howling III is any indication of what I can expect, I’m in for a terrible film! That’s right folks, for me, Howling III is one of the worst films ever made. Period! I mean, I put it right up there with Troll II (1990) in terms of how bad it is. Let me put it this way, if you want to laugh at how bad a film is, look no further than Howling III! So keeping that in mind, was Communion as horrible as Howling III?
The good thing I can say about Communion is that it sustains this wonderful dreamlike state. Sometimes we don’t even know if we’re dreaming or not. The dream sequences (or flashbacks it all depends on how YOU interpret the film) give this film this strange ‘Twilight Zone’ feel to it, I liked that about it. The dreamsequences are really the stand out thing about the film, they evoke the strangest sensations, they project the weirdest images and I’m going to go out on a limb here, but some of them are pretty good. Sadly, thats about as good as this film gets. Also, you know how Christopher Walken can get really crazy in some of his performances, to the point where he gets kind of scary? Remember him on King of New York (1990) or The Deer Hunter (1978)? Well, on Communion he goes to fringes of normalcy once again and acts as if he was insane, really insane. This is the kind of performance where you get the feeling that he’s on something as he performs.There’s this scene where he gets hypnotized, wow, he came off as really crazy there. Reportedly, Whitley Strieber didn’t like Walken’s portrayal of him, he told Walken that he was portraying him a bit “too crazy”. Walken’s reply was “if the shoe fits” implying that Strieber is in fact crazy, so that’s the kind of vibe that was floating around this set. I say if you like your Walken like he’s one card shy of a full deck, this is the one for you. Some critics have gone on to imply that it was Walkens performance which brought the film down a couple of notches. I say no. Walken has done crazy before with other directors and it’s worked, I say it’s the direction and style of the film that turned it into a box office bomb.
Which brings me to the thing I absolutely hated about this film: the alien creatures. There’s two types of aliens on this film, we get that traditional skinny, long alien with the elongated black eyes, you know, the traditional alien that some people claim to have seen, and then there’s these midget aliens, that wear monk cloaks and have blue skin. To be honest, they reminded me of the midget creatures from the Phantasm (1979). Now, I love the Phantasm films, but I always thought those midgets from the Phantasm films where kind of funny and at times kind of took me out of the film, sadly, the same thing happens on this film. According to the tone of the film, the aliens should have been frightening, yet they come off as completely laughable. In one scene, Christopher Walken’s character himself laughs at the notion of these blue midgets being menacing saying that it’s all very ridiculous, which is probably what Walken truly thought about the creature effects; and thats a bad sign right there, when your actors are making fun of the creatures in your film. At a certain point in the film, you kind of get the feeling that the filmmakers themselves are kind of making fun of Whitley Strieber’s story. As if they weren’t taking it seriously themselves, cant say I blame them.
All in all, this is a disappointing film. I liked certain elements of it, and it had an interesting premise but the direction and the creature effects bring the film down way too much for me to fully enjoy it. It has this Twilight Zone/dreamlike feel to it which I kind of enjoyed, but as an effective alien abduction film, I say this one failed horribly because you never feel like the film is taking itself seriously. In other words: the film feels uneven. I recommend this one only if you’re in the mood to watch a really weird film, or if you are in the mood for watching a film that you just can’t quite figure out why you don’t like. Mediocre at best; sadly, this is the best Philippe Mora film I have seen.