Originally premiering in the UK in June 1978, The Shout is an unsettling film based on a short story by writer and poet Robert Graves, showcasing outstanding performances from its recognisable British cast. Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski (most recently seen acting in London Film Festival opener Eastern Promises) visually depicts a picture-postcard vision of England close to that portrayed in Sunday evening TV stalwarts — all picturesque summer days, set in the open fields of North Devon, with cricket being played and communities attending church.
Following the uncovering of three bodies laid out on tables in a dining hall, he leads us to a cricket match where residents of the local insane asylum (including a young Broadbent) are playing against the villagers. Inside the makeshift scoring hut sit Charles Crossley (Bates) and Robert Graves (Curry), meeting here for the first time to take score of the match. Oddly, in this movie it is Curry, of Frank 'N' Furter fame, who pitches normality, contrasting with the intense and disturbed character of Bates's Crossley. Hurt and York portray Anthony and Rachel Fielding, the couple at the heart of the story being recounted. Crossley invites himself to stay with the Fieldings, and they, being the polite British folk they are, allow him to. It quickly appears that their new visitor is odd, to say the least. He recounts his time living with Aborigines, where he took a wife and apparently killed his children; this is where Aboriginal mysticism comes to the forefront of the narrative as Crossley mystically infiltrates the couple's life. He makes Anthony afraid of his power by dramatically using the death-inducing shout of the title in a powerful and superbly shot scene, and steals Rachel from him by casting a spell on her.
Bates's brilliant performance certainly makes his character all the more enigmatic; his delivery and steely glances bring a charismatic strength to Crossley's weirdness. The sound used is as present and important as another main character; every effect is surreal and distorted from the call of a peacock to the intense sound of Crossley's shout - turn the volume right up when you watch. The flash forwards, quick cuts and flashbacks also serve to keep the audience guessing about what is really going on, embarking on a tense, mysterious and sometimes confusing narrative where we're never really sure who is lying to who. Is Crossley lying to the couple within his story, or to Graves? Or both? Or neither? My mind was changed many times throughout the film. Early on he contradicts himself in saying that every word of the tale is true, yet also admitting he's changed the story to keep it more alive when he tells it. My one gripe was that one section lulled me into such a false sense it was being surreal that I missed a vital plot indication ... whoops. The ending back at the cricket match is ambiguous, but this was satisfying – to wrap things up neatly would almost certainly have ruined it. The superb performances, non-linear editing, and the pay-off of coming up with your own explanation for everything is what makes this film enjoyable.
EXTRAS **** The commentary recorded recently with critics Kim Newman and Stephen Jones gives some important context to the movie; they speak at length about the short story that inspired the film and mention Graves's possible inspiration for the character of Crossley. There's also a fabulously narrated trailer and a picture gallery.