There are a number of provocative ideas buried inside the perverse thriller A Reflection of Fear, and the picture also boasts a gorgeous surface, thanks to luminous photography by László Kovács. So, even though the movie is a total jumble from a narrative perspective, it offers many textural pleasures. The story centers around Marguerite (Sondra Locke), a disturbed 16-year-old girl who lives in luxurious isolation with her wealthy mother (Mary Ure) and grandmother (Signe Hasso) on a sprawling private estate. Marguerite’s room is crowded with dolls whom she believes are alive, and she’s obsessed with horticulture; in other words, the movie does everything but brand the word “psycho” across her forehead.
Marguerite’s absentee father, Michael (Robert Shaw), shows up for a visit one summer because he wants a divorce from Marguerite’s mother so he can marry his girlfriend, Anne (Sally Kellerman). When Michael finally meets the daughter he’s never known, he becomes worried about her oddball nature and decides to rescue her from the grips of her family. Before he can do so, someone murders Mom and Grandma. In the aftermath, a local cop (Mitchell Ryan) tells Michael and Anne not to leave town, so the lovers move into the estate. As weird goings-on continue, Marguerite develops a quasi-incestuous obsession with her father, which understandably displeases long-suffering Anne. And so it goes as the movie spirals toward a psychosexual “twist” ending that’s neither satisfying nor surprising.
Based on a novel by Stanton Forbes, the script for A Reflection of Fear vacillates awkwardly between intimate psychological tension and full-on horror jolts, so the tone is as disjointed as the story is murky. Most of the actors underplay their scenes, as if they’re not sure which way to take the material, but Locke eschews subtlety by complementing her peculiar appearance (she’s one of the palest people ever committed to film) with a breathy little-girl vocal delivery. It’s either an awful performance, if the goal was to be taken seriously, or an effective one, if the goal was merely to seem weird.
Cinematographer-turned-director William A. Fraker, stumbling after his promising directorial debut Monte Walsh (1970), can’t pull the story together, but he does a fantastic job creating atmosphere with haze filters, ornate production design, and smoked sets. A Reflection of Fear isn’t particularly frightening, but it’s easily one of the best-looking movies of its type, and some viewers will find the picture’s strange mood and enigmatic dramaturgy mesmerizing. (Available through Columbia Screen Classics via WarnerArchive.com)
A Reflection of Fear: FUNKY