Felicia's Journey (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


I guess many of you know that The Sweet Hereafter is probably my favorite film, so you can imagine that I waited for Atom Egoyan's next film with bated breath. I was disappointed. Damn, I wish I could praise it to the hilt, but it ain't gonna happen.

There are signs of great craftsmanship on display, and some brilliant touches, but overall I didn't like it much at all.

Felicia is a beautiful young Irish girl who is pregnant by a boyfriend who has disappeared in England. Rumors abound. Some say he's working at a factory, others say he's enlisted in the British Army, and is therefore a traitor in the eyes of Felicia's father. The boy's mother is a strange woman who won't help Felicia communicate with her son.


Felicia is determined to find him and hear his story from his own lips, so she borrows some funds from her ancient great-grandmother and makes her way to Birmingham, conducting a search on foot, in high heels. Everywhere she goes leads to a dead end and directions to another place on the other side of town, but the determined girl ignores her sore feet and keeps going.

While her story develops, we meet Hildie. Mr Hilditch is the catering manager for a large industrial corporation, apparently a gentle soul, and obviously a lonely man. He spends his non-working hours at home preparing elaborate meals that he consumes alone. His house is meticulously organized with his nostalgic collections and 1950's atrifacts. In fact, the house hasn't really been updated for years, and even the appliances are old-fashioned.

The paths of Felicia and Hildie intersect. Several times he runs into her on the streets and offers her directions or other forms of kindness. He even offers to give her a lift to a neighboring town to continue her search, easily justified by the fact that he has to go there anyway to visit his dying wife.

The film starts out with a feeling of normalcy undercut by a tone of melancholy. But shortly into the film we determine that Hildie is not normal at all. The first clue is beautifully done because it interrupts a perfectly routine moment with a grand absurdity that is dropped into the film matter-of-factly. As he watches a cooking show, his egg-beater doesn't work, so he throws it into the trash, and walks into another room where he has hundreds more of the same model, all still in the original packing. The particular model is the same one advertised by the woman on the cooking show.

As time goes on, we discover that the woman in the cooking show is his mother, now deceased, and that the little boy who acts as her assistant is him as a child. He is preparing his own meals in the same kitchen where the show was filmed. The cooking show tapes, like everything else in the house, are four decades old. Something in his childhood has made him a very disturbed man. We later find out far more disturbing things about him, and we gradually realize that naive Felicia is placing herself in ever-increasing danger as she comes to trust him unquestioningly.

I guess I can't say too much more without betraying the suspense. It's a Hitchcockian thriller where the ominous sense of the film far outweighs any explicit horror. For example, there is a scene where Felicia and Hildie drive together in his car, and their perfectly humdrum dialogue is undercut by odd and dissonant violin music. You know something must be wrong because of the music, but you can't figure out what it is. I still haven't decided whether I liked that technique.

Psychological thrillers can run the gamut from A to Z in the explicitness of the horror hinted by the premise. At the far extreme is The Comfort of Strangers, which ends with a detailed and graphic depiction of the worst thing you could possibly have imagined from the build-up. In Picnic at Hanging Rock, on the other hand, there never was any horror at all. The whole point of the movie was that perfectly innocuous events seemed suspicious simply because the kids were missing. Effective, but precious, and not very entertaining because ultimately just making an intellectual argument with you instead of touching you deep inside.

Felicia's Journey is rather too similar to the lifelessly intellectualized Picnic at Hanging Rock. The horror is real enough, but all the meticulously crafted suspense comes to a kind of cinematic coitus interruptus, and ultimately nothing much happens. It isn't as completely boring as Picnic at Hanging Rock, and it's skillfully wrought, but it just seems too .... anticlimactic, or something. You just sit there and say to yourself --- that's it? That's how it gets resolved?

DVD info from Amazon.

2.35:1 letterboxed widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 screens.

Featurette and interviews

Various trailers and TV ads.

Full-length Egoyan commentary.

The original versions of the cooking show (even the recipes), and the tapes that Hoskins watches on his little black and white TV.

I still think Atom Egoyan is a masterful craftsman, and this film expands his range because it demonstrates far more dramatic irony and humor than in his previous works. The corny pre-rock 50's music makes a bizarre and humorous complement to the spooky Celtic folk music that dominates other scenes, and Hildie's childhood memories are grotesquely comic in places.

The acting features brilliant performances from Bob Hoskins, Arsinee Khanjian, and young Elaine Cassidy. The story is told realistically and with great depth of character development in the back-stories, and the feeling of loss and melancholy is ably maintained by the photography and music.

Hell, it's probably a great movie, but I just didn't like itl. So static, so slow, the horror so cerebral, that the film lacks the overpowering gut punch that so strongly marks his previous two films. The learned film critics will tell you that this is a greater movie than the sentimental Cider House Rules, and I suppose they are right, but, dammit, I want a film to touch me deep inside, not just to create a jewel of an intellectual argument, and this film didn't do that.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: Three and a half stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, Apollo 78.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.2, Apollo users 83/100 (that's one of the highest I've seen).
  • With their dollars ... despite the good reviews from some critics, the movie did nothing at the box office - less than a million dollars, despite 11 weeks of effort. Its best week was below $200,000. I guess I wasn't the only one who couldn't get into it.

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