The Sentinel (1977)

It’s hard to watch “The Sentinel” and not be reminded of Roman Polanski’s early work, specifically “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Tenant.” In a way, that’s a good thing because, since the narrative is reminiscent of some Polanski’s top-shelf work, there’s a built-in oppressive atmosphere and the threat of encroaching-but-unseen forces tormenting our lead character in her gorgeous New York City apartment is lent some credence by Polanski’s earlier explorations of similar themes. However, that’s where most of the comparisons end, because “The Sentinel” director Michael Winner is no Polanski: The suspense is mostly relegated to the tone, while the actual narrative has a tendency to spin its wheels, going over the same points again and again while the audience grows increasingly impatient with the slow pace and the lack of meaningful action. Additionally, the movie is further damaged by two weak leads, Cristina Raines and Chris Sarandon, who are both gorgeous to look at but deliver mood-ruining, borderline-cringry performances: You can see that Raines is trying her best to rise above the rather weak material even though she’s just not very good in it, while Sarandon can’t seem to settle on a singular approach to his character, which results in an inconsistent, uneven and wooden performance. It’s a shame because there are aspects that work here and there (in particular Sylvia Miles and Burgess Meredith in memorable supporting roles that end up doing most of the movie’s dramatic heavy lifting) so it’s not exactly a waste of time, it’s just a bit of a missed opportunity.

Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)

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