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I was not expecting to enjoy Delirium as much as I did. I’ve been on a horror kick recently, but as I’ve dived into the genre I’ve discovered that my tolerance for it is drastically lower than when I was in my early twenties. As a result I wasn’t in the mood for this film.
A 2018 movie directed by Dennis Illiadis, Delirium stars Topher Grace as Tom Walker—the youngest son of a very rich senator. Tom is struggling with an unknown trauma stemming from his childhood, and he’s spent the last twenty years living in an asylum. When his father dies and leaves the family home to him, Tom is released and given permission to reintegrate back into society, so long as he can stay in his father’s house for thirty days without incident.
Tom has mixed feelings about this. He’s happy to be released, but he’s been estranged from his father for ages. When he starts to suffer from horrific visions with regular frequency, he tries to tell himself it’s all in his head. Unfortunately the visions persist, and he begins to wonder if the house is haunted.
As alluded to at the beginning of this review, I didn’t know if I would enjoy Delirium because I felt burnt out by all the horror. Instead, I found myself really getting into the movie and saying “five more minutes, just five more minutes” until I was more than halfway through the film.
This steadily building, engaging narrative is brought to life by Grace’s Tom Walker. Tom is a man who struggles with trauma, but is down to earth about his foibles and tries to shrug off the things he sees with dark humor. It makes him relatable, and connects the audience to an otherwise very un-relatable life.
Additionally, Delirium also makes an interesting observation on how rich people can literally get away with murder; how this sort of mindset can affect their children. I’m not sure if the filmmakers were conscious of the fact that their commentary could be interpreted on a societal level, but it’s there.
When you grow up in an environment where the rules of the law don’t apply to you, how does this change your perception of those who are not rich? How do you cope with the consequences of your actions, if you realize there are consequences at all? How does this change your brain chemistry? It’s a fascinating subject.
The twist at the end of this film was definitely crazy. I won’t go into the details here, but I will say that I did not see it coming. The build-up to the climax was perfectly pitched.
While I don’t mind watching another horror film where the main character struggles with mental illness, I think Delirium could have done a better job of depicting it. It falls prey to a lot of stereotypes typical to people’s outside perceptions of mental health.
These stereotypes manifest in the way that Tom is constantly popping pills instead of trying self-calming techniques; in how the goth girl he develops a crush on “obviously” self-harms; in how Tom’s brother have a visible scar to denote his “evilness”. These are all visual signifiers that show up in media as a shorthand way to make a blanket statement about a group of people.
In this case, I don’t think these tropes were employed with ill intent, nor do I think the filmmakers were entirely conscious of it, but as a result their characters appear shallow in their emotional complexity. This is especially true when you’re comparing this film to something like Hereditary—another movie that deals with generational illness and family trauma.
I keep on comparing this film to Hereditary because both movies feature families struggling with mental illness. If you’re looking for a film that’s not quite as scary I actually recommend watching Delirium first. If you’re need more info on how these two films are alike, read our review of Hereditary. Spoilers: it’s terrifying.