Movie Review: Manic Thriller ‘Delirium’ Gets Unhinged
After a twenty-year stint in the mental institution for committing a horrific crime when he was a teenager, Tom (Topher Grace) has finally been released into a brave new world at the start of Delirium, a new Blumhouse-produced horror-thriller not to be confused with another film of the same name released earlier this year.
Only catch: as per standard US regulations, he must spend 30 days alone in a haunted mansion under house arrest before he can prove he’s sane and win his freedom.
That’s not going to be easy, especially considering that even under his current medication, Tom still suffers from graphic hallucinations that distort his reality. Throughout most of Delirium, Tom is never quite sure if he’s really seeing what he’s seeing, and neither are we.
To complicate matters, his estranged father (Robin Thomas), has committed suicide in the mansion just days before Tom’s release. We can assume the half-eaten corpse that keeps popping up is a hallucination, but what about all the other creepy goings-on in Delirium?
Like Tom’s brother (Callan Mulvey), who should surely still be in prison - yet shows up at the mansion for some big bro hugs and casual conversation... as a grown adult, even though Tom has only ever known him as a teenager.
To help Tom keep a grip on reality, kindly delivery woman Lynn (Genesis Rodriguez) brings his Fruity Pebbles and some backstory-probing questions. His medication-confiscating parole officer (Patricia Clarkson), on the other hand, is a little less helpful.
Delirium is a total dud in the horror department, despite some frequent jump scares early on, which probably explains why producer-distributor Blumhouse has kept it on the shelf for the past two years before quietly releasing it overseas ahead of a US debut on DVD.
Despite that, the first half of Delirium is a lot of fun as an is-it-real? unreliable narrator thriller, which constantly has keeps us guessing about what’s going on and where things are headed and if we’re really seeing what we’re seeing. Grace makes for a sympathetic lead in what is effectively a riff on Polanski’s Repulsion.
Also fun is Delirium’s final act, which plays its hand and pieces together its Rubik’s Cube of a story in surprisingly bravura fashion. It’s preposterous and convoluted, but like the similarly-themed horror film The Boy, so over-the-top it can’t help but be entertaining.
What isn’t so effective is how these two halves mesh in Delirium: the climax all but abandons the is-he-hallucinating premise so nicely established during the first half of the film, and wants us to take the subsequent events at face value.
It’s a jarring switch in tone and style, and one that Delirium hasn’t earned. Like the recent Soderbergh thriller Unsane, the protagonist’s erratic mental state is used to drive the story forward, then abandoned as a plot device when the screenplay decides it doesn't need it.
In Delirium and Unsane, I was left wondering about the reliability of the narrator long after the story had been tied up in a neat little box. Both films are one final, ambiguous twist away from being truly satisfying.
Delirium was directed by Dennis Iliadis, who helmed the underrated remake of Last House on the Left and the neat little thriller +1. He displays a similarly strong hand with sometimes-ribald material he’s working with here, and Delirium should be a fine distraction for anyone with tempered expectations.