The Haunting of Julia Blu-ray Review (Imprint #218)

The slow burn of loss

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3.6

In 1977, Mia Farrow came “full circle” and returned to a character trope that she seems to do best – a confused and sorrowful woman battered by what could be considered supernatural forces. Nine years after her fantastic portrayal of Rosemary Woodhouse in Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Farrow starred in another film based on a horror novel, this time an adaptation of Peter Straub’s Julia directed by Richard Loncraine. This is not the story of a mother soon to be, though, but of a woman who loses her daughter to a tragic accident and soon begins to experience the ghost of another little girl haunting her new mansion. The grief motifs are similar, but here Farrow teeters on the brink of psychological breakdown due to her own guilt rather than the manipulation from those around her.

Loncraine’s film is a slow burn – at times, perhaps a bit too smoldering for its own good. The Haunting of Julia quickly sets up the main conceit with a traumatic opening sequence that finds Farrow’s Julia performing a failed tracheotomy on her choking daughter, featuring a haunting shot of her bloodied that mimics the film’s unsettling final frame. From there, she moves into a gigantic house by herself after separating from her useless husband Magnus (Keir Dullea), where the film sort of stagnates in its depiction of supernaturality. Loncraine uses a lot of the same ideas that were heavily favored in ghostly films at the time, and Haunting tends to focus more on the investigatory aspect of the disturbances than the scares themselves.

This gives the film a very languid pacing, and while it’s clear that Loncraine is focused on ensuring Julia is a rounded character with just enough mystery to keep the audience suspicious of her unreliability, the film never really manages to get into a groove. All of the right tropes are here, from the beautiful Gothic elements of the mansion to poring over old newspaper clippings for a past child murder to multiple grisly “accidental” deaths, but it doesn’t come together in the most cohesive whole. It doesn’t help that the film’s conclusion refrains from providing a solid answer to the question of whether anything supernatural was actually going on – The Haunting of Julia sort of wants it both ways, but that loses some of the impact of the admittedly disturbing motherly guilt of the storyline.

With that said, The Haunting of Julia certainly does have its effective moments steeped in existential dread, and its grisly subject matter gives it a punchy statement rather than relying on the formulaic elements of folks moving into a randomly haunted house. Loncraine’s final scene is obviously the one with the most power to stick in the viewer’s brain, but it’s at the expense of forcing the viewer to sit through a film that doesn’t engage as much as it should.

Blu-ray

Imprint has released The Haunting of Julia on Blu-ray as number 218 in their series of collector’s edition packages. For this release, the film has gotten a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, which is presumably a different transfer than the one that Scream Factory recently provided on their own 4K UHD release of the film since that one notes it was a specific restoration by Scream Factory. This transfer looks quite good with a nice filmic texture to it; grain scale is about medium-bodied and not chunky or obstructive for the most part, and overall detail is noticeably high despite the film’s employment of anamorphic lens and soft focus. This is a movie that certainly would benefit from the use of HDR to manage some of its extreme black levels, but Imprint’s transfer does a very good job of keeping those blacks deep and dark without suffering from any noticeable crush, and in comparing screenshots from the Scream Factory Blu-ray version of their release, this offering looks right in line with that transfer in terms of both color palette and overall depth. All told, this is a great transfer that just so happens to come at an inopportune time as a 4K release, but if upgrading isn’t something you’re interested in, this looks to offer much the same video fidelity.

Imprint offers an LPCM 2.0 mono track for this release, which I thought sounded fine from a score perspective but which seemed to have a good bit of muffled dialogue. I don’t have Scream Factory’s 4K UHD to verify if this is simply a source issue or something more with the LPCM track; it is worth noting that Scream’s is slightly different in that theirs is a DTS-HD MA 2.o mono track instead of the LPCM. However, it’s not an overly problematic issue, just something that does seem to crop up again and again in the audio output. English subtitles are also included.

For extras, Imprint has assembled a number of new and different features from Scream Factory’s release. A new audio commentary with director Richard Loncraine and Simon Fitjohn is presumably the same as the one on the SF 4K, and the only shared offering between the two. Imprint also features another new commentary track with Jonathan Rigby & Kevin Lyons for more contextual information about the film, both of whom seem to have a visceral appreciation for the movie. A new interview with composer Colin Towns gives insight into the creation of the soundtrack and a discussion about the origins of his music career. Director of Photography Peter Hannan provides a half-hour interview sharing anecdotes about working on the film, namedropping some other crew members on the production, and commenting on the beautiful locations. Associate Producer Hugh Harlow gives a fairly brief interview of being brought into The Haunting of Julia‘s production. 

This release also offers an excellent visual essay from Kat Ellinger that explores motherhood and Gothic horror, including but not limited to The Haunting of Julia; she also ventures into the various Gothics that Mia Farrow starred in, including a breakdown of Rosemary’s Baby, and compares to some of the other haunted house-style Gothics released in novel form around the same time period. Finally, a theatrical trailer and the option to watch the film with its original title card Full Circle are included.

This package also comes with a sturdy 3D lenticular case and a CD soundtrack disc with two unreleased tracks by Colin Towns. A full-color booklet featuring an essay by Sean Hogan comparing the film to Peter Straub’s novel Julia is another large bonus. Reversible cover artwork is included for the Blu-ray case.

Extra Features

  • NEW 1080p High-definition presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K scan from the original negative
  • Option of The Haunting of Julia and Full Circle opening credits
  • NEW Audio commentary with director Richard Loncraine and Simon Fitzjohn
  • NEW Audio commentary with film historians Jonathan Rigby & Kevin Lyons
  • NEW “Breaking the Circle” – Video interview with composer Colin Towns (1080p; 14:12)
  • NEW “Framing the Circle” – Video Interview with cinematographer Peter Hannan (1080p; 27:15)
  • NEW “Joining the Circle” – Video Interview with associate producer Hugh Harlow (1080p; 7:00)
  • NEW “Motherhood & Madness: Mia Farrow and the Female Gothic” – Video essay by film historian Kat Ellinger (1080p; 23:42)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 0:33)
  • Optional English HOH subtitles
  • NEW 3D lenticular case
  • NEW remastered CD soundtrack
  • NEW Special collector’s booklet featuring an essay by Sean Hogan
  • Reversible cover artwork

Verdict

The Haunting of Julia is a solid Gothic horror film where Mia Farrow shines despite a glacial pacing. Imprint’s new Blu-ray release comes at an inopportune time due to Scream Factory’s new UHD, but the exclusive extra features – including lenticular case, CD soundtrack, and essay – make this worth a purchase if the pinnacle of video quality isn’t a must-have.

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