Communion 1989 ***

Communion is a problematic film that’s hard to fit into any specific genre, and has consequently slipped into relative obscurity; popping up on Amazon Prime might encourage a cult following for Philippe Mora’s film. Whitley Strieber adapted the script from his own book, and horror/sci-fi fans will know that Strieber claims to know his subject well, because he controversially went public in describing his own abduction by aliens. Communion takes these claims seriously; based on Strieber’s position, Communion is not horror, or fiction at all, but a personal account of being assaulted by alien beings.

There’s plenty of reviews willing to make fun of this, but Strieber’s entitled to make his case, and he does so in a rather strange way. The Wolfen author enlisted Christopher Walken to play a version of himself in Communion that is decidedly uncomplimentary; Strieber’s writing routine is depicted as rather weird, and his penchant for strange outfits and voices makes you wonder what the audience is supposed to think of him, but there’s at least a veneer of extreme honesty here. Strieber (Walken) takes his family out of NYC and off to a remote cabin, only to be visited by aliens. And before you can say ‘anal probe’, that’s exactly where Mora’s film goes, and in some detail. Strieber struggles to admit to himself what’s happened, but meeting up with other survivors of alien kidnappings gives him the gumption to go public about his trauma.

Mora actually does a nice job here, taking time for atmosphere and to get inside Strieber’s head, as well as decent support from Lindsay Crouse as Strieber’s long-suffering wife. But hiring the director of Howling II: My Sister is a Werewolf may have been a mistake in terms of credibility, an own goal that makes it easy to carp. The alien designs (there are several species identified here) are a mixed bag, and Communion won’t please genre fans because it doesn’t use that first encounter as a jumping–off point; that’s the whole movie, and it takes Strieber two hours of semi-improvised scenes to catch up.

But there’s something going on here that’s worth a second look. Paul Schrader’s Kingdom Come was an account of alien visits that got revamped as Close Encounters; round about the time of Taxi Driver, Schrader equated male alienation and disillusionment with a lack of belief, and Communion addresses the same subject. Walken is an unpredictable presence, and he makes something remote and tricky of Strieber’s character; this might be a vanity project, but it’s also one that casually and perhaps unwisely exposes the author warts and all. Of course, seeing Christopher Walken deep probed by aliens has a real curiosity value for thrill-seekers, but Communion’s intermittent sense of quasi-religious conviction is unusual to say the least. Whether you believe it or not, the author seems genuinely keen to you to give his story a chance.


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