The Sender (1982)
★★★ / ★★★★
A young man languidly walked along a densely wooded highway and made his way through a public park. With rocks in his pocket, he stepped in the lake and tried to drown himself. Parents and children watched in horror as the young man didn’t even blink before ending his life. Resuscitated and taken to the mental hospital, he was named John Doe #83 (Zeljko Ivanek) since no identification was found on him and he couldn’t remember who he was. Under the care of Dr. Gail Farmer (Kathryn Harrold), the hospital staff hoped to relieve John of his amnesia and major depression. None of them were aware that John actually had the ability to transmit his visions and nightmares into people’s minds. Written by Thomas Baum, “The Sender” injected a creative spin on telepathy and made it a fascinating experience through intense projections of imagery most often found in carnivalesque house of horrors. I enjoyed that the fears it featured were common in order to shock and appeal to the greatest number of viewers but they always felt relevant to the bizarre happenings. For instance, the camera zoomed in on creepy-crawly bugs and chattering rodents to the point where we could almost inhale their revolting smells and feel their alien bodies on our limbs and down our spine. It also showed us every day fears like someone breaking into our homes in the middle of the night and being followed in a secluded area. Each time the material focused on fear, Thomas Baum, the director, exhibited such control over the events that were unfolding. Although close-ups were common so that we could really absorb the terror that the characters were going through, he adopted a rhythm in terms of when to pull back the camera–as if forcing us to take a deep breath–and ready us for another round of slow curiosity and sudden jolts. Furthermore, the use of music by Trevor Jones laid a dark aura on an already sinister storyline. Underneath its techniques were supported by very good performances. Harrold as the psychologist was not only well-meaning, she had a balance of toughness and sensitivity. I enjoyed Dr. Farmer’s interactions with Dr. Denman (Paul Freeman) because they stood on the opposite sides of the spectrum when it came to dealing with the unusual case of John Doe #83. Dr. Farmer believed in talking things through with the young man and slowly urging him to try and remember his past. But Dr. Denman believed there was no time and he was convinced that sooner or later the patient was going to kill himself. Dr. Denman’s solution was electroconvulsive therapy. I liked that although I didn’t agree with Dr. Denman, given that it seemed there were other options before his final solution was justified, there was no denying that both doctors cared for the patient. Ivanek, too, was quite interesting. There were times when he allowed his character to come off rather innocuous, but there were also moments when we couldn’t help but consider that perhaps his innocence was not only a façade but a tool utilized in order to continue to exercise his abilities. “The Sender” needed a stronger final act. While it made sense where it took place and why certain events had to happen, I didn’t feel anything while watching the commotion unravel. It could have been more imaginative and thrilling. Nevertheless, the film, clever in having no subplot so that we could hone in on the mystery, clearly had an ambition and the goods to achieve it.