Gus Van Sant’s notorious shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic is likely one of the most divisive movies made in the 1990s, but even its supporters will admit that it’s not exactly a thrilling narrative experience to sit through. After all, the novelty of seeing Hitchcock’s signature picture updated and in color tapers off rather quickly, and the movie’s central problem is exposed: It’s not its predictability nor its familiarity, nor is it the specter of the original, but instead it’s the egregious miscasting of Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates and Anne Heche as Marion Crane. Vaughn doesn’t seem to have a handle on Bates as a character, playing him instead as a combination of quirks and ticks, while Heche is inscrutable and distant, which negates any audience involvement. The infamous shower scene is a downright mess in Van Sant’s version, with its narrative impact dulled by its inevitability and the atrocious stop-motion approach used by Van Sant, which draws attention to the act being committed instead of its significance to the movie’s plot. This version is set in 1998 but its dialogue and character interactions are straight out of the 1960s, which adds to a disorienting vibe that never settles on a particular tone or atmosphere. All in all, this remake is interesting in a film-school kind of way, the kind of unabashedly pretentious experiment that film scholars will dissect for decades to come, but as a movie in its own right, it’s a failure.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)