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Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

John McNauthton

One of the most impressive directorial debuts of recent years, John McNaughton’s chilling study of a blithe serial murderer leaves one drained and disturbed. While stayng at the Chicago apartment shared by Otis and his timid sister Becky, Henry slowly draws his old prison buddy into a dark, obsessive world of casual murder. The violent images are at first oblique, Henry’s past victims shown as a series of grotesque tableux – accompanied by the echoing (recorded?) sounds of their death struggles. The violence later becomes graphic, but what makes it so disturbing, at times almost unwatchable, is the detached tone McNaughton maintains throughout. Whether presenting a halting conversation or a scene of sickening violence, the camera observes these events with an unblinking eye. Even so, this amoral tone and semi-documentary look are lent an extra, stylised dimension by some precise framing and skiful lighting… A film of ferocious and haunting power.

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