I love cinema, so how could I not join in?
Mr Wrong is the film that I’ve seen more times than any other — by quite a large margin.
The reason is that it’s one of two New Zealand films about which I wrote my Masters’ thesis. The other was Trial Run, and while I’ve clocked up the hours watching that as well, I confess I never enjoyed it as much.
It’s March 1986, and I’ve already wasted a year of my enrollment in a MA (not to mention a year’s worth of bursary) trying to find something (anything) interesting in the research topic I’ve somehow landed myself with.
To help pay the bills, I’ve managed to create a nice little gig writing and producing a training film for my department. I also enrol in a Film Studies paper taught by the pioneer of academic film study in New Zealand — Professor Roger Horrocks.
As it becomes increasingly clear that I won’t ever complete the planned research into The World’s Most Boring Thesis Topic Ever — friends rally to help me cobble together a new research proposal. We go back to the beginning. What am interested in? Duh: film!
Conveniently for me, two New Zealand made films offer up a perfect topic. Or as I wrote in my thesis introduction:
In 1984, the final year of the current New Zealand film boom, two unusual films were completed. MR WRONG, directed by Gaylene Preston … and TRIAL RUN, directed by Melanie Read have the triple distinction of being New Zealand films made by and about women, and of declaring themselves feminist films. Further, both operate within, and on, the thriller genre.
Mr Wrong was adapted from a short story by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It is about Meg, a young woman who buys a MK II Jaguar car only to discover it is haunted. Without resorting to depictions of violence and gore, the film contains several scenes that are truly terrifying. Indeed, over thirty years after I first saw it, I still get goose pimples remembering the scene where Meg thinks she’s escaped from the bad guy only to find …
I guess there’s no need to spell it out.
But what I do want to emphasize is that while Meg and another female character are victims of male aggression, the audience is never invited to revel in their fear. And in the end, the women triumph — which doesn’t happen in the original short story.
When I interviewed her for my thesis, director Gaylene Preston acknowledged the influence of Alfred Hitchcock in the way she shot several scenes to increase their dramatic tension — mentioning Hitchcock’s line that “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
In the process of writing the thesis, I watched Mr Wrong over 20 times. Afterwards, I did wonder if I’d ever be able to sit through it again.
I have. It’s that good.
You can watch the NZ Film Commission’s trailer here.
Or the trailer for the film’s American release (as Dark of the Night), on Gaylene Preston’s website here.