I don’t know why, but I’ve yet to see what I would consider a particularly successful genre film about government forces attempting to weaponize psychic abilities. It seems like a small niche, but quite a few horror and science fiction films have played with this concept for decades. It’s just a hard pair of concepts to combine.
One one side, you have the twisted body toll conspiracy film where the bad guys disguised as good guys will stop at nothing to keep their secrets from coming out. On the other side, you have a fantastic display of bombastic effects and a whole lot of intense staring and shaking from actors to simulate extreme mental strain. The styles really are quite at odds with each other.
Brian De Palma came pretty close to finding a cohesive mix in his film The Fury. It’s an espionage/rogue agent thriller about attempting to rescue teens being turned into living psychic weapons. Kirk Douglass plays the rogue, gun-slinging agent attempting to take down the organization that once employed him for kidnapping his son for experiments and training in telekinetic abilities. He tries to use other psychics to track down his son’s whereabouts, yet the dark unnamed government entity seems to have eyes on everyone who has ever shown any slight ability in this realm. Their latest target is a girl around the missing son’s age who might be an even stronger weapon, if anyone can get her to control her abilities.
The big issue with The Fury is the intense focus on Kirk Douglass’ character. Douglass is totally believable as Peter Sandza, but Peter Sandza is a dull character. We’re talking about a film where people can make toy trains fly off their tracks and explode without any training in controlling their abilities. No amount of tough guy banter, disguises, fast cars, and headshots is going to compare to that. Peter Sandza is essential to the story, but the screenplay puts way too much weigh on our emotional investment in a character whose sudden shift against his employer (who he raved about for the first five minutes of the film) is a stretch. You get a clear shot of one betrayal and then–bam!–11 months later he will kill anyone who gets in his way.
The more compelling story belongs to the new recruit, Gillian Bellaver, played by Amy Irving. She has an easy presence onscreen that balances the more aggressive acting happening around her. It’s almost like all the other actors were going for that surprise Piper Laurie/Sissy Spacek in Carrie awards run with extensive scene chewing and neurotic displays, where Irving actually played what the story called for. A more relaxed approach from everyone would have done a lot to make the parallel narratives and nuances of social and political commentary actually gel.
Gillian is an outsider. She’s smart, but not as smart as her best friend. She’s pretty, but that’s a liability in an all girls’ school. She’s gifted, but she has no idea what it means or how to control it. And worst of all, her abilities actually cause other people pain. If anyone she comes in contact with has bled anywhere–a paper cut, an ulcer, a menstrual cycle–in the recent past and she has a vision, that person will begin to bleed uncontrollably from their old wounds. It’s what got her sent to the same Paragon institute Sandza is trying to get answers from.
The thing is, Gillian doesn’t come across as someone who wants to be seen as exceptional. She’ll study, but only so hard. Same with trying to impress her friends, her teachers at the Paragon facility, or anyone she comes across. Gillian wants to be a happy young person able to pursue her own goals and no one in her life wants that for her. Every time she thinks she gains some control of her life, she quickly realizes any sense of control is an illusion being used to manipulate her into using her psychic powers for a certain purpose.
It’s a vicious cycle of self doubt and escape when, ultimately, Gillian is doomed to never escape. Her abilities will always be there, dormant or active. She will see visions. She will hurt the people she loves. And that she will never fully control.
By the time all the loose threads start to come together in The Fury, the film has totally lost its voice and purpose. It becomes an explosive display of grotesque special effects and makeup with no semblance of plot. It’s like someone demanded De Palma recreate that final confrontation between Carrie and her mother, only as a 40 minute sequence with various combinations of young psychic and older authority figure again and again. It just doesn’t make for a very compelling narrative. There’s something to enjoy and take away from The Fury, but it’s just a bit too messy to really connect in a meaningful way.