Flashback Review: The Hunger (1983)

What's wrong with him?

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I always find it interesting when a filmmaker transitions from one video format to another. The Hunger is the late Tony Scott’s modern-day vampires-are-living-among-us big screen debut. Prior to making this film, he had been a director of TV commercials. There’s proof of that in the way that he handles this film. It is full of short, quick cuts. There’s a focus on music and flashes of color, and the camera is often pulled away so that the audience can understand the setting easier. In short, commercial directors are used to having to make their point quickly and distinctively. In the feature length format, there is a lot more space, a lot more time to develop story and characters, and the themes and messages can be more subtle.

In his debut, Tony Scott experiments with using those TV commercial techniques on a full-length film. Unfortunately, the translation is not an easy one and as a result, the film suffers from lack of cohesion. It almost feels like he doesn’t know what to do with all of the space. The film is an all-out assault on your senses. It’s full of moments where the storytelling is beautifully artistic, only to be bogged down minutes later by rampant imagery. The story is told in these chunks, and as the film progresses, it loses its grip. Therefore, as you might guess, the focus is mostly on the visuals. Tony is heavily influenced by his brother Ridley’s style and it shows. The opening sequence is masterfully done (see video below), but unfortunately the technique quickly grows dull and soon the film becomes tedious with its focus on flash over substance.

That’s not to say that there isn’t anything besides the visual effects to enjoy. David Bowie is the star, even if his character is more of a supporting one. His character is likeable and Bowie’s performance is able to convincingly convey the emotions stemming from the very interesting circumstance thrust upon him. To single out the scenes with David Bowie as the best part of this film is both a detraction from the rest of the film, as well as a championing of his charismatic performance. It’s just unfortunate that his character isn’t featured more prominently.  While the film has a somewhat interesting premise, the cheap thrills and rather crude presentation leaves much to be desired.

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Story: Mariam is an ancient vampire who has lived her long life accompanied by a series of lovers. Her curse is that, despite her immortality, she can’t keep her partners from dying. When she bites them, their youth is sustained, but not forever. Her current partner, John, notices that he has started to age rapidly. Hoping to find a cure, he tries to visit doctor Sarah Roberts, who has been working on a cure to aging. At first, she thinks he is crazy, but when it becomes apparent that he isn’t, she starts to become curious. Her investigations lead her to Mariam, who in turn becomes curious with Sarah….Okay (5.2/10)

Acting: Catherine Deneuve plays the mysterious Mariam. As she’s often known for doing, Deneuve’s performance is chilling and poised, but you can’t help but feel a little let down, since she can be hard to understand and her stoic style means that her character is largely devoid of emotion. Susan Sarandon plays Sarah Roberts, and although her character is a strong female protagonist, she seems weak at times and she is never really able to gain the audience’s trust. David Bowie makes a strong impression as John, and is perhaps the only likable character in the film. I will add that, because of the strong sex and vulgarity of this film, all the actors really went out on an edge and therefore you have to applaud their adventurism from an artistic point of view. Okay (6.2/10)

Direction: Tony Scott’s direction is heavy-handed and very manipulative, but he’s doing a lot of experimentation in the process. The whole film is full of flashbacks, non sequiturs and weird “artistic” moments that would be nice if they had some sort of substance behind them. Scott’s focus on creating something visually stunning compromises the story, which is what usually drives the emotion of a film. There are too many scenes that feel empty, and because of these missed opportunities, the storyline is hacked and slashed to bits. The film really tries to push the envelope and be as edgy as possible; the most controversial moment being a sex scene. While I applaud Tony Scott for taking risks in bringing his vision to life, I feel like a lot of what he does is unnecessary. This is one of those movies where the director is too involved, trying to force a certain tone or meaning from the material, rather than letting the material develop that tone or feel natural. Okay (5.5/10)

Special Effects/X-Factor: The movie’s visuals are not crisp, often harshly juxtaposed, and dark. Nonetheless, this film is a visual delight. Too bad there isn’t much else behind those visuals to keep you entertained. Not to mention the fact that, while the visuals are frequent and interesting, they don’t really add much excitement. For that reason, the film tends to get tedious and eventually the added extra flair starts to make the story more confusing than it needs to be. Overall, this film might just be remembered above all for the sex scene, but at least it gave Tony Scott a chance to experiment with the techniques he would use for the remainder of his career. His follow-up films showed that he learned much. Okay (6.8/10)

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Rating: (5.9/10) = F (Avoid It)

What’s Good: The film opens with a bang and the visuals never let up. David Bowie is able to make the most out of the interesting premise.

What’s Bad: The rapid-fire visual style of the film gets old very quickly. Tony Scott is trying too hard, and the film’s attempts to be “edgy” and “experimental” are detrimental to the plot.

The Verdict: Lack of substance makes the title somewhat fitting.