One of my favourite movies is Hitchcock’s Psycho so it goes without saying that any film that dedicates itself to that movie in any way is a must-see with the expectation it will delicately presented. Directed by Sacha Gervasi, based off of the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (1990) by Stephen Rebello, the film looks beyond Psycho itself to the other side of the camera behind the scenes and inside the mind of Hitch himself (played by Anthony Hopkins) during the period of Psycho’s conception and development in 1959-60. It’s one thing that Psycho is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time but it’s telling that enough went on with its creation that a whole other movie could come from it.
It’s helpful to be familiar with Psycho for Hitchcock as several scenes are recreated but mostly just to understand the impact and significance of specific scenes of the original as they appear in this one; specifically, with the infamous shower scene in which Hitchcock himself is in control of the knife as the camera roles on a shocked and fearful Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) while the crew looks on in horror. It’s the take that is kept.
Hitchcock focuses on several aspects of the making of Psycho on personal and professional levels. Hitch had little support for the film that most thought wouldn’t work as horror hadn’t yet developed as a respectable genre at this point. Therefore, he funded the movie himself with the hesitant support of his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). Meanwhile, there was tension within the marriage as Hitch often obsessed over the female stars of his films as Alma was aware of but willingly overlooked it. However, she was also working on a screenplay with friend Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), in which there was clear sexual attraction that Hitch himself accuses her of.
Anthony Hopkins is nearly unrecognizable as himself thanks to the work of makeup artist Howard Berger, whose use of prosthetics make Hopkins more Hitchcock than Hannibal. Hopkins captured the essence that was Hitchcock: determined, obsessive, controlling and genius. Few would have pulled off such a transformation and it’s Hopkins that does it well. Another striking role resemblance is James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins (who played Norman Bates in Psycho). His spot-on representation of Perkins – shy, timid and innocently creepy – was enough to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. Amongst the field of the perfect casting, it’s Helen Mirren that delivers the film’s best performance as Hitch’s concerned wife. She’s torn between needing to do her own work for self-satisfaction and doing what Hitch needs her to do. She plays Alma so well that kudos are of the utmost importance and required for both Mirren and Alma Reville for being the most patient, respecting, dedicated and loyal wife.
The biggest misstep in Hitchcock is with its incorporation of the inspiration for the entire film, Ed Gein; the killer from the 1940s and whom Norman Bates’ character is based off of. Played by Michael Wincott, his person is interspersed throughout the film interacting with Hitchcock as he plans how the film is to play out. While its intended effect is likely to show the sinister influence of a horrific murderer on someone so well known and respected as Hitchcock himself, the scenes in which he appears are distracting and feel too out of place in the context of the rest of the film. There’s too much emphasis on Alma for this part of Hitchcock to have the impact it could have had otherwise.
Hitchcock passes the test of this Psycho fan. Superb acting by a wonderful cast telling a story that is nearly as fascinating as the one in which the focused film is based on.