There aren’t many films like the extra creepy “environmental allergy” movie Safe from unpredictable and eclectic filmmaker Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Far From Heaven, Carol). Released in 1995 and featuring a then rising star Julianne Moore in what amounts to a powerhouse performance of internal anguish, the film was unjustly overlooked by many in favor of splashier projects, but still cuts very, very deep and close to the bone. A psychological horror film of the first order, Moore plays a wealthy Los Angeles homemaker who develops multiple and unexplained allergies to everything around her – smells, sounds, sights, and the overall environment start to make her physically sick and mentally unstable. Apparently, it’s called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and her husband, played by an at first concerned and then by the end totally exasperated Xander Berkeley, is at a complete loss for words and understanding, her friends can’t comprehend any of it, and worst of all, she can’t figure any of it out for herself.
Providing no easy answers for any of his characters (or the audience), Haynes and the adroit cinematographer Alex Nepomniaschy (Narc) used compositional space to suggest isolation and loneliness and mental despair, while the complicated sound mix, which utilized multiple layers of sound in order to distort and augment reality for Moore’s emotionally fragile character, never allowed the viewer to know anything more than any of the characters at any point in the narrative. Movies rarely get as underrated or as unsung as something like Safe; it’s a small film with big ideas and it’ll mess with your head long after the final shot fades to black. And as always, Moore was mesmerizing to watch, dropping a tour de force piece of acting that registers as one of her best and most unhinged portrayals of a damaged soul on screen. Available on Criterion Blu-Ray.