A horror film of a completely different kind, Rebecca Hall is mesmerizing in Antonio Campos’ sobering cinematic rendering of the true story or Christine Chubbock, a Sarasota FL news reporter who committed suicide on air in 1974. Campos lets the audience’s own morbid curiosity and fascination with death and violence create the unique and extremely uncomfortable psychological journey.
Christine (2016) dir. Antonio Campos
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracey Letts
By Alan Bacchus
Christine admirably fit into the modus operandi of the Borderline Films collective of Antonio Campos (Simon Killer), Josh Mond (James White) and Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy Mae Marlene)- intensely focused character studies of psychologically damaged heroes of the American middle class. Campos focuses his lens on the once sensational, now vaguely remembered true story of Christine Chubbock.
While most of the other Borderline films, such as Campos’ previous Simon Killer, Campos admirably applies considerably less style to the Chubbock story. Anything less than quiet realism would have been seen as exploiting or romanticizing the tragic events. Even with a conventional visual approach, Campos has made Christine supremely cinematic.
Hall rarely leaves the screen, and thus we’re forced to go through the agonizing downward spiral from the promising and seemingly put-together local journalist to a depressed and lonely introvert highly susceptible to the pitfalls of being a career-woman in a ‘man’s world’. This is the 1970’s after all, and however absurd there is a thematic connection between the Sarasota TV news department and Anchorman’s San Diego scene. Watching Chubbock subtly play second fiddle to the uber-males in her office enlightens us to the bullseye Anchorman hit with its satirical spear.
Michael C. Hall fits the polyester suit well as the confident WXLT newsman, George Peter Ryan. As the object of Christine’s affection as well as the symbol of career goals, Hall’s performance subverts our expectations. A lesser depiction of the character could have seen Ryan solely as a bombastic masculine foil. Instead Hall, Campos and writer Craig Shilowich bury the sexism with an even more frustrating passive-aggressiveness.
I don’t know the exact details of the events, but Campos’ aesthetic precision creates a feeling of authenticity. The creative embellishment Campos’ does use is the near perfect selection of pop music tracks which populates the otherwise quiet soundtrack. Soft rock and candy-coded hits such as Laughing by the Guess Who, Everything I Own by Olivia Newton-John and other tracks from Sonny and Cher, Tommy James and John Denver, counterpoint the sobering drama unfolding.
Otherwise, the uncompromising attention to detail make it feels like everything happened just the way we see it. Campos assumes the audience knows the story and where it’s going, and he confidently uses this anticipation to build suspense and sustain tension. And when the tragic event does happen, it’s an electric hyper charged scene, punctuating an event and film never to forget.