Full Circle, a.k.a. The Haunting of Julia, is a horror film directed by Richard Loncraine, who has had a wildly unpredictable film career. Loncraine’s previous film this one was the satirical pop musical Slade in Flame, a cult classic, and he later directed the excellent Richard III starring Ian McKellen in an alternative fascist Britain. The introduction of Full Circle on the new Blu-Ray had Loncraine admitting that “it’s almost a good film,” and he wasn’t far off.
Peter Straub, who is known best known for his novel A Ghost Story (adapted into an awful film) and his collaborations with Stephen King on their Talisman series (The Talisman and Black House), wrote the film’s source novel, Julia. Straub initially tried to make it as a “mainstream” novelist, but Julia would be his first supernatural horror novel after his agent at the time suggested he should try his hand at a “gothic novel.” It soon became the genre he is most associated with.
Full Circle is one of those horror films about trauma, a direction that now is very much in vogue. Mia Farrow plays Julia Lofting, who accidentally kills her daughter Kate in a botched tracheotomy after the child starts choking on her breakfast. Her marriage breaks down, and Julia moves into a big house in Kensington, during a time that guilt and trauma over the death of her daughter is starting to make her lose her grip on reality. You can definitely draw a parallel to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, with both films being about the guilt over a death of a child—but one is an out-and-out masterwork, and Full Circle is certainly not that.
Richard Loncraine is a competent director, so the film is oozing atmosphere and has many striking moments: the final shot will linger in your memory long after the credits are over. However, the plot is pretty dull, and it’s completely devoid of any serious tension. The whole plot device of Farrow trying to solve a murder from the 1940s to give her some meaning to her life doesn’t really work for me. This comes soon after a seance goes wrong, after she invites some friends over because she is lonely. One brings a psychic medium over, who suggests doing a seance… never a good idea.
Farrow gives it her best, but you do get the sense that she felt she was above the material and saw it as a film about a woman’s psychological breakdown rather than a supernatural horror film. She is channeling bits and pieces of her performances from Rosemary’s Baby and See No Evil, the two previous horror films she appeared in, which are also just better films, especially Rosemary’s Baby. Farrow was mainly working on stage at this point in London, as her then-husband André Previn was the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. She has had one of the oddest careers of any actress, and I can’t say she has had any particularly interesting work since her much-publicized split from Woody Allen. She has a real presence on screen, but only Polanski and Allen were able to fully bring it out.
Keir Dullea plays Julia’s controlling husband. He is fine in the film, but much like his role as David in 2001: A Space Odyssey, he is utterly devoid of any human personality. This worked perfectly for Kubrick’s film, but there is a reason Dullea’s film career never really took off—although he has an interesting list of cult favourites in his filmography, like David & Lisa, De Sade and Black Christmas. To his credit, Dullea is still working in film and TV today. The rest of the cast is made up of British character actors, with Tom Conti being the most instantly recognisable as an antique-dealer friend of Julia’s.
Full Circle should appeal to fans of films like The Changeling, The Haunting and Don’t Look Now. “Eerie supernatural” horror isn’t completely my bag, with obvious exceptions, but if you love the aforementioned films, you should definitely check out this nice UHD/Blu-Ray package from BFI. The Blu-Ray disc includes commentary with film historian Simon Fitzjohn and Loncraine, plus interviews with actors Tom Conti and Samantha Gates, composer Colin Towns, producer Hugh Harlow, Loncraine, and of course genre film expert Kim Newman, amongst others. The booklet contains a director’s statement from Richard Loncraine, and new essays on the film from Simon Fitzjohn and Josephine Botting.