Never has Venice been more beautiful, photographed more sumptuously, or depicted with more foreboding since Nicholas Roeg’s, Don’t Look Now (1973). The Comfort of Strangers (1990), directed by Paul Schrader, is a horror movie but you don’t know that until the startling climax. That’s when you look back and see all the clues.
A young couple, Mary (Natasha Richardson) and Colin (Rupert Everett) travel to Venice to try to rekindle what is left of their lukewarm relationship. They walk around the streets of Venice in what seems like a bored stupor. They get lost one night and are rescued by an older man dressed in white (Robert, played with understated menace by Christopher Walken) who takes them to a bar and regales them with stories of his family and plies them with wine.
“My father was a very big man. And he wore a black mustache. When he grew older and it grew gray, he colored it with a pencil. The kind women use. Mascara.” This we learn from Robert not once but three times. This is our first clue that something is not quite right with Robert.
When Mary and Colin leave the bar, they get lost again and spend the night outside leaning against a wall. They make their way to a café on the piazza the next morning to order breakfast. Robert spies them and comes over and apologizes for abandoning them last night and invites them to his luxurious palazzo to get some rest. They accept. Later, they wake up naked in bed. It seems Robert’s wife, Caroline (Helen Mirren), has hidden their clothes with instructions from Robert not to give them back until they accept an invitation to dinner. Caroline admits to Mary that she has sneaked into their room and watched them while they were sleeping. Another clue. Things get weird from there.
When Mary and Colin depart and go back to their hotel, they somehow find the spark that they were looking for and have wild passionate sex. They are lured back again to the mysterious couple’s abode and things do not end well.
A lot of things don’t quite add up in this stylish thriller but it is so interesting to watch you don’t seem to care. Excellent acting all around with Christopher Walken standing out as the creepy Robert. The film might best be summed up by the police detective investigating the crime at the end, “I don’t get it,” he says. I didn’t either, but I sure did enjoy it. Quite a literary pedigree, I may add, based on the novel by Ian McEwan and screenplay by Harold Pointer. Paul Schrader is known as a literary type of director and this is his kind of material.