I will admit right here in front of the tens of you reading this that I have seen woefully few Robert Altman films. I will go on to admit that of the few I have seen, they haven't all thrilled me. I found Quintet (1979) to be a dull, turgid mess. Let me risk being banned from ever talking about movies again when I say that I respect Nashville (1975) more than I actually enjoy it, although I'm willing to accept that I might simply need to see it again. But man, when I jive with whatever he's putting out, we are a match made in heaven. 3 Women (1977) is an all-time favorite, and I might just find myself in agreement with the lone reader who voted for Altman's only horror film Images (1972) because hot dang, it knocked my socks and my wig right off.
Cathryn (Susannah York) is a writer of children's novels who retreats to the damp Irish countryside with her husband Hugh (Rene Auberjonois) after receiving a series of disturbing phone calls from a woman who accuses Hugh of having an affair. As the couple draws nearer to their cottage, they make a pitstop. Hugh runs off to hunt some quail, and in a deeply unsettling scene, Cathryn watches...well, she watches herself arriving at the house, and this second self watches her up on the hillside.
Here, Images does the unexpected thing by switching things up, pulling the rug out, and following this second Cathryn. She is increasingly a woman on the edge, battling both mentally and physically against hallucinations of past lovers, her present spouse, and even herself, before things get even more complicated with the arrival of a former lover and his daughter, who bears a striking resemblance to a young Cathryn. Things spiral as the two Cathryns are drawn inexorably closer to one another.
We've perhaps seen this kind of thing before (did this character kill character one only to find out they'd actually killed character two? or maybe they didn't kill anyone at all?) but Altman approaches these ideas masterfully, keeping us guessing--sometimes, along with Cathryn--at what's real. It's riveting, thanks in large part to York's layered performance, which thankfully steers away from histrionics and keeps things grounded even as we're unsure if Cathryn is taking control of her madness or merely succumbing to it.
Images is a slippery film, one that may take multiple viewings to "get," but that doesn't mean it's inaccessible. It just exists in its own kind of dream logic, and hey, maybe it's best to let yourself experience that, you know? Sometimes it's great fun to pull at every dangling thread of a film, analyzing every line and frame (*cough* Suspiritober 2019, anyone?), and sometimes it's greater fun to kind of sit in it and let a movie be. I truly love (and am prone to) getting wrapped up in "Okay, but what does this mean?" with the majority of horror films I watch, no matter how hollow or junky they may be. But I find it's an even bigger treat when I'm confronted with a story that's practically begging to be dissected--Picnic at Hanging Rock, for example--and I simply don't want or care to.
Make no mistake, Images is definitely begging to be dissected. Just take a gander at these credits!
As with 3 Women, I see where I could bust out several skeins of red string and start making all kinds of connections as I interpret and infer and analyze my heart out. But also as with 3 Women, I think I'll be content to watch Images time and again, fully enraptured by its strange, eerie world.