Virtually lost in a brief run in a handful of theaters, The Comfort of Strangers tells the decidedly uncomfortable story of two strangers in Venice, lost at night in the seductive city’s twisty warren of narrow streets. What happens to the young couple, played by Natasha Richardson (Patty Hearst) and Rupert Everett (Dance With a Stranger) is much worse than losing their physical way: They meet creepy Christopher Walken (who’s beginning to resemble a human gargoyle), his weird wife (Helen Mirren), and eventually, an unmentionable fate.
Stay-at-homes afflicted with fantasy wanderlust will be hypnotized by Venice and fascinated by the theme of sexual self-destruction. But fans of Ian McEwan’s swift, horrifying novel will be disappointed by director Paul Schrader’s languorous pacing (it feels as if you could read the book in less time than it takes to watch the movie), although Harold Pinter’s script is fairly faithful to McEwan’s dark vision and inspires sufficient anxiety and dread.
Rental tip: For a sex-and-death-in-Venice video double bill, also look for Nicolas Roeg’s brilliant 1973 excursion into uncharted psychosexual waters, Don’t Look Now. B