The Hand is a lot of silliness saved by as much style. The premise—a severed limb with an intelligence and determination of its own—has been used before, notably in Hands of Orlac and The Beast With Five Fingers, yet seldom with such spine-tingling effect. This time around the lonely hand belongs to a cartoonist (Michael Caine) who, upon having his livelihood taken away, experiences a deep trauma. The director and screenwriter, Oliver Stone (best known for his Midnight Express screenplay), does his finest work before the hand gets loose: Caine chopping wood, with his daughter as they watch the nerves of a severed lizard’s tail in the grass do a death-rattle dance, and the car accident itself. Stone has a genuine talent for creating suspense through atmosphere—putting you on edge by the power of suggestion. But when the hand’s occupation is established (it strangles), The Hand takes on the kind of foolishness better left to movies about marauding, tarantula-like toes.
Stone, however, from the very beginning is as preoccupied with the dissection of a failing marriage as he is with exercising the stylistics of terrormaking melodrama. The cartoonist and his wife (Andrea Marcovicci) are, emotionally, poorly matched: he’s abrasive and wrapped up in his comic strip while she’s relegated to being a good listener with no real interests of her own. The storm clouds passing over their relationship with alarming frequency ring true and create a further tension following the accident. The “phantom feelings” Caine has following the loss of the hand become clearly connected to his repressed rage about himself and his wife.
The movie is pulled together in part by Caine’s performance: everything about the cartoonist is more than slightly off-centre, and his emotions seem to be dictated by forces buried too deeply inside him for us to see. But there’s another—and rare—form of control operating in The Hand: its sound track. Noise is what we respond to in this movie, sound has an equally insidious quality in the countryside of California as it does in New York. When victims are dispatched, the audience is much more sensitive to what they hear than what they see.
After a while,however, the logistics of the hand’s actions, such as how it gets from New York to California or into a chest of drawers, work against the enjoyment. Because of this, the ending joke doesn’t work: it’s logistically
askew. Part of the pleasure of watching an entertainment like The Hand is being shown its Swiss-watch construction, how all the tiny gears are connected. The pleasures in The Hand, however many and frightening, are diluted by the absence of a firmer grip on the material. —L. O’T.
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