Picks and Pans Review: The Sender

updated 12/13/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/13/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

The minute he walks in the joint (a very laid-back loony bin) and begins telepathically distributing thoughts that have all the patients and staff seeing nightmarish visions of rats, roaches and fires, you know this kid is a real big sender. What you don't know is, what in the world is going on. The plot, written by Thomas (Carny) Baum, is a Freudian's delight, concerning a 20-year-old man, Yugoslavian-born Željko Ivanek, who is followed around by his mom, Shirley Knight, or maybe it's only a ghost of his mom. She seems to have the idea that he's a Christ figure, and Ivanek does, indeed, project the gaunt, hollow-eyed look popularized by actors who have portrayed movie Jesuses. Sensitive shrink Kathryn (Yes, Giorgio) Harrold is sure she can figure out a way to help him, even though the mental hospital already has one patient who thinks he's the Messiah. Director Roger Christian, meanwhile, fills the screen with blizzards of ominous presences and illusory scares. He won an Oscar for set decoration on Star Wars, but this is a rat's nest of a movie in more ways than one. There's one striking scene when Ivanek, in the process of undergoing electroshock therapy, transmits his surge of pain to the treatment room staff, sending all of them into a balletic slow-motion frenzy. But even that turns out just to be in everyone's mind. None of the goings-on restore anyone's faith in either mental institutions or moviemakers. (R)

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