The Fly (1958)
An experiment gone wrong results in scientist André Delambre to become merged with a fly. His wife, Hélène, tells the story of her husband and his ultimate demise.
Spoiler Level: Moderate
Every good story begins with an intriguing question. With a hook that not only has the power to pull people into the first five minutes, but to sustain their attention throughout a series of 200 pages, or three hours of performance, or 90 minutes of film. The Fly is a textbook example of a hook that latches onto the audience and doesn’t let go: how did André Delambre die, and why is his wife lying about it?
The remainder of the story simply follows the week’s events as they unfold, but it does so with the knowledge that the viewer is waiting. Waiting to understand, and waiting to see for themselves. Before it was a tactic applied to Buzzfeed articles, it was a long used narrative element that expertly took a long and drawn out story and made it worth a viewer’s time.
This attention grabber is so desperately needed in a modern day viewing of the film, because long and drawn out is The Fly’s specialty. At the time of its release, the sluggish pacing was used to build suspense, and to great effect. Similar approaches were utilized by a number of cinematic heavy hitters, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho—a slow sense of not-quite-normal that leads up to a jarring climax. A woman stabbed to death in the shower or, in this case, a trapped and mutilated man screaming as a spider pierces his skin.
But movies have grown and developed over the past sixty years, especially those in the horror genre. The ante has been upped. Gone are the days where 90 minutes could work towards a single startling scene. Audiences are now conditioned to sit through mere moments (and indeed, sometimes only seconds) of suspense before encountering their fourth or fifth jumpscare of a film. I mean this not as a criticism of the genre, nor of the audience who enjoys it, but rather as an observation of its growth. What was once a highly effective narrative tool now reads as a somewhat boring afternoon. It points to our greater relationship with media and the many ways in which we consume it.
Once one can see past the elements of the film that haven’t aged well, it becomes obvious that there are quite a few elements that have. Most notably, the film is still able to maintain a level of suspended disbelief in its audience, despite relying heavily on a futuristic science. There are films even from the late 2000s that have questionable depictions of technology and physical theory, but The Fly walks an eternally fine line between vague and specific that that gives audiences enough understanding to follow the plot, but lacks any kind of overexplanation that might damn it into badly-aged technological purgatory. Even now, viewers can buy into the concept just as easily as they could have sixty years ago.
Furthermore, the film almost plays out as a period piece. The production levels are astounding. The sets are beautifully constructed to reflect wealth in its time, the costumes eye-catching and lovely, as though they belong in magazines. André’s lab feels cutting edge, even with its blackboards and typewriters, the ambiance of the piece translating beautifully across time.
This film is, in every respect, a classic. It holds up to the greats in its genre and lands with a flair in the modern day. Well worth the time of any horror fans with a sudden and abundant amount of time on their hands.
Monsters Unleashed: The Fly (1958)
Writing - 8/10
Storyline - 8/10
Acting - 6/10
Music - 6/10
Production - 10/10
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