Richard Loncraine, 1977
Starring: Mia Farrow, Keir Dullea
Julia is having breakfast with her daughter Kate, when the girl chokes on an apple and dies, despite - or perhaps because of - Julia’s attempts to save her. Julie has a breakdown and is briefly placed in a home by her husband Magnus. After her release, Julia leaves Magnus and buys a new home that is oddly full of children’s toys. She cannot stop thinking about Kate and believes she hears strange noises in the house. At first she blames this on Magnus. She thinks he is spying on her, trying to drive her mad, and get her to return to him because of her trust fund.
Lily, her sister in law, wants to use the house for a seance, but the medium insists that Julia leave the house as soon as possible. One of Lily’s friends falls down the stairs and dies. Soon after, Magnus breaks into the house and has an accident and also dies. Julia learns that the house has a dark past of its own and a young boy died in the nearby park many years ago. Children were responsible for his murder and a girl named Olivia, who lived in the house, was the ring leader. There are more accidental deaths in the house and Julie comes to believe that Olivia is responsible for it all, even Kate’s death. Has she discovered the truth or is she losing her mind?
Released in the U.K. as Full Circle and later in the U.S. as The Haunting of Julia, the film did poorly in the box office and has remained obscure, not even warranting a region 1 DVD release. It was on Netflix somewhat recently and on Comcast’s FearNet streaming channel, so horror fans have at least had a chance to see this neglected, though interesting film. Based on horror writer Peter Straub’s Julia, this was his first novel to be turned into a film. I’ve read a few of his books and this is certainly not the strongest, so I’m a little confused why it was turned into a film. The scriptwriter happens to be Harry Bromley Davenport, director of the superior sci-fi horror oddity Xtro.
Director Richard Loncraine is also responsible for the underrated occult/psychological horror Brimstone and Treacle (1982), among others. Full Circle was one of his first films and is a Canadian-U.K. coproduction, though it is unmistakably a British horror film. Slow paced and subtle, for most of the running time it is difficult to tell if Full Circle is a film about a haunting or a woman’s madness. The death of Julia’s daughter during the film’s opening is powerful, particularly the way the camera lingers on the choking scene. It’s implied that Julia performs a tracheotomy offscreen - cutting her daughter’s throat open - but the girl dies anyway.
Cinematographer Peter Hannan does some excellent dreamy and surreal work here. He repeatedly worked with Loncraine and went to collaborate with Nicholas Roeg. Brian Morris (Angel Heart) also contributed some memorable set design, particularly for Julia’s new, spooky house. There’s a mixed score from Colin Towers, which is excellent at times but distracting at others. The performances are all solid, made up mostly of trained theater actors in the side roles. Though Kier Dullea (Black Christmas) and Tom Conti (Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence) have appearances as the rival men in Julia’s life, Mia Farrow is largely the sole presence throughout the film and she makes or breaks it. If you disliked her performance in Rosemary’s Baby, you will absolutely hate her here, as she seems even more weak, withdrawn, ethereal, and otherworldly.
Full Circle has its fair share of flaws, namely the absolutely crawling middle portion of the film. There are some poorly written and unfulfilling script elements, such as Julie’s husband Magnus. He could be doing some gas-lighting, but his character packs less of a punch than it could have because his role is not fully written and his motivations are ill explained. The use of seances, asylums, haunted houses, malicious children, and stories of children dying will be appealing to some genre fans, but cliched to others.
Regardless, Full Circle is watching at least once if only for the atmosphere and interesting conclusion. Things really kick off in the second act when a number of deaths occur and the mystery begins to unravel. Unfortunately, it is not yet available on region 1 DVD, though it is relatively easy to find online. Mia Farrow fans will definitely want to check this out, as will anyone who enjoyed superior films like The Changeling or Let’s Scare Jessica to Death.