The Entity asks us to believe that a single mom of three is not safe in her own home because an invisible rapist keeps assaulting her. Supposedly based on a real-life story (that has never ever been independently verified), the woman is played by the beautiful and otherwise sympathetic Barbara Hershey.
A widow from a previous marriage when she was just a teen (which bore her a son), she has two daughters in a common-law situation that sees her spending most of the movie without a partner because Alex Rocco is always off on business trips. (He pops in briefly in less than a handful of scenes.)
While brushing her hair and putting night cream on her leg one night, she is suddenly slapped, thrown on her bed and smothered by a blanket while being raped. Just as quickly as it happens, her assailant bolts. And her life is never the same. On four more occasions, she will experience similar traumas: while asleep, while on her couch, while in her bathroom and while completely disrobed on her bed.
Each time, I was repulsed (because Hershey’s acting is very good and rape scenes aren’t pleasant to sit through, let alone experience) but highly skeptical. Why would a poltergeist target her, and her alone, for such violations?
The entity, as it comes to be known, doesn’t just rape, you see, it also causes destruction. It shakes mirrors, yanks out dresser drawers, dislodges shelves, opens windows and slams doors. And it doesn’t restrict its torture to Hershey’s family home. While driving one day, it suddenly takes over the pedals, almost causing her to crash. When she makes her second trip to her friend’s house (while they’re just about to leave for a wedding reception), the invisible beast causes havoc in the living room in a matter of seconds.
Hershey’s friend convinces her to see a psychiatrist and that’s when the much missed Ron Silver enters the picture. He becomes her chief caregiver and right off the bat, his Freudian senses detect bullshit. Unfortunately, the movie takes Hershey’s side, swallowing the preposterous idea that everything we see actually happened in real life. (The film is based on a novel that had already taken liberties with the original story.)
He thinks everything she’s experiencing is the result of a delusional manifestation brought out by long repressed childhood sexual trauma. We learn her father, a minister, did not respect her boundaries. She ended up running away to New York when she was 16 when she got pregnant by her eventual husband who later died in a motorcycle crash. Her son was born after he died.
While in a bookstore with her friend, Hershey overhears a couple of men talking about a case that sounds similar to hers. She befriends them and convinces the two scientists to investigate her house. While passing by a mirror in her living room, it shakes. For the rest of the movie, they use their early 80s electronic equipment to try to figure out what the hell is going on. At one point, the entity sends out bits of harmless green light towards them. Is that supposed to be threatening?
All the while, Silver is not convinced she’s in any real danger. He thinks it’s all in her head. That was probably the situation in real life since the real woman at the heart of this story was an abusive alcoholic who lived in a shack with her four kids (Hershey has three in the film) that had been declared condemned. Twice. By comparison, occasional wine drinker Hershey and her family live in a typical California middle class residence. There’s very little dysfunction and Hershey does not exhibit any mental illness whatsoever.
Silver’s Freudian tendencies get the better of him when he suggests that maybe Hershey has hidden sexual feelings for her teenage son (who has undisclosed disciplinary problems at school and looks after his sisters while she takes typing lessons at night school). He’s clearly reaching, a sign of stubbornness. (He’s not too happy about the scientists who’ve taken over her case.) No wonder this discredited school of thought has long since been discarded by contemporary academics.
He’s probably right, though, that Hershey has never fully healed from her father’s violations but the movie makes no connection between that and the poltergeist assaults. In fact, by the end of the film, we still don’t know why this is happening. After a disastrous lab experiment (conducted in a gym) that results in a couple of unintentional laughs, the entity suddenly figures out how to talk. I wish it stayed mute.
Despite not being a good film, The Entity is really better than it should be thanks to two strong performances from Hershey and Silver. Their conversations have a nice, natural rhythm that adds undeserved authenticity to a story otherwise wreaking of nonsense. (I also liked the opening title music which also plays during the end credits.) The assault sequences are technically convincing when it’s just Hershey and the invisible demon (except for the last one which suffers from obvious special effects) but when family members try to rescue her, the little suspension of disbelief generated from these moments immediately dissipates. You know none of this happened in real life. It’s just not possible.
Because this is nothing more than unresolved paranormal propaganda, unlike Martin Scorsese (who named this one of his 11 favourite horror films of all time in The Daily Beast), I didn’t feel all that terrified. More than anything, I was confused by why I should take any of this seriously. Put simply, maybe The Entity would’ve worked a lot better if it was as skeptical as Silver.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 24, 2017