Released May 22, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 36min
Directed by Dennis Iliadis
Starring Topher Grace, Patricia Clarkson, Genesis Rodriguez
Tom (Grace) has spent the last twenty years in a mental institution, after witnessing and being implicated as an accomplice in his brother’s murderous deeds. Inheriting the estate of his wealthy late father, he’s released onto 30 days of house arrest, under the cruelly watchful eye of a parole officer (Clarkson). Unallowed to leave the premises for a month, he attempts to move on and build a life, but the sins of the past may not be so accommodating.
Delirium is a haunted house ‘what’s-real-and-what’s-not’ creeper that focuses on a single character for much of its runtime. Produced by prolific purveyor of modern horror, Jason Blum, it’s a Hollywood slick interpretation of indie horror – kinda like when Anheuser-Busch and Miller make ‘craft’ beers.
I like to believe that I’m better than falling into the lazy thinking that contributes to the notion of ‘typecasting’, that an actor can become so associated with a particular type of role, or even one specific character, that it’s difficult or nearly impossible to accept them in anything else. I’m not though, and I’ve had substantial difficulty in seeing Topher Grace as anyone but Eric Forman, especially in his earlier post-That 70’s Show roles. His major part in Predators, for example, honestly made it more difficult for me to take the movie seriously, and when I saw this on Netflix, my first thought was ‘Hey! Eric Forman’s in a horror movie! That’s funny!’ I can now say that Delirium has served as a primer for me toward taking Grace more seriously hereon out (I have yet to see Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, where he apparently nails the role of David Duke – yeah, that David Duke). This movie lives or dies on how well he can carry the vast bulk of it on his shoulders – about two-thirds of it is a one-man show – and his portrayal of the emotionally stunted, ultra-anxious, and potentially psychopathic Tom sees to it that it lives…mostly.
I say mostly because this is a film that really slogs in the second act. Many worthwhile horror movies still suffer from some portion of its story being notably weaker than the others – whether it’s a clunky beginning, a clumsy ending, or, in this case, a sagging middle. Early on, Delirium is rather compelling as an examination of a thirty-something man who has lost twenty years of life, culture, and social development for his unwilling involvement in his domineering psycho brother’s thrill kill (was it really unwilling though?) Grace does apply some of the same awkward goofball charm here that defined Eric Forman, but it’s well-balanced with the portrayal of a guy who’s thoroughly haunted by terrible things and memories, and his house is full of them.
That hauntedness though is what drags the proceedings to a crawl midway through. The jump scares, the creepy sounds, and the freaky images are getting recycled beyond their second use at this point, and the story just begs to get pushed forward faster, but not without another pan shot of a room while things creak and groan or the vision of Tom’s dead dad popping out of another doorway. I suspect that these moments were intended to spice up the dish to serve to wider audiences through a theatrical release that never happened, so they only exist to bog down what was promising to be a more contemplative yet stylishly ambitious effort.
And Delirium does have style. Director Dennis Iliadis employs some skillful flair by making this sprawling mansion seem claustrophobic and suffocating, as it becomes to Tom. He might borrow some from the library of Stanley Kubrick to make this happen, but that’s a damn good bag of tricks to take from and it’s done effectively and purposefully as opposed to being empty mimicry. Parts of the house, like the father’s office, the swimming pool, and a bizarre set of secret hallways, take on sinister identities as the film progresses, and Iliadis deserves a lot of the credit for that.
Yet, even though it picks up out of that sluggish midsection, Delirium transforms into something incongruently different. It wedges in an unconvincing romance, introduces a villain that realistically shouldn’t be there, scuttles the whole subplot involving the parole officer – making those scenes and that character fairly meaningless – and sets up The Big Finish, which simply doesn’t hit with the impact it’s hoping for. I truly believe this has a lot to do with a stable of producers (including Leonardo DiCaprio as well as Jason Blum) that literally outnumber the cast. That’s a lot of powerful Hollywood types wanting their money’s worth out of a script that likely didn’t match their profiteering ambitions. I mean, the climax is so overblown, it even has Tom spouting off some zingy action-star one-liners, which just doesn’t mesh at all with the 80% of the film that proceeded it.
That said, Delirium is worth a watch. It just has too many conditions attached to it for me to recommend with any enthusiasm. Topher Grace did transcend my expectations of him and the director brought what he could to the party, but the result is a messy muddle, even if it’s mostly entertaining throughout.
Delirium gets a