The 1986 film, Extremities, begins with a woman named Marjorie (Farrah Fawcett) getting into her car and getting attacked by a masked rapist named Joe (James Russo). Though Marjorie manages to escape, Joe grabs her purse. Later, we watch as Marjorie gets no help from the police while Joe goes home to his loving family.
One week later, Marjorie is alone at her house when Joe lets himself inside. At first, Joe pretends that he just needs to use the phone. When Marjorie lies that her husband is taking a nap upstairs, Joe starts to call for him to come downstairs. As Joe reveals, he’s been stalking Marjorie for days. He knows that she’s not married and he knows that her roommates will not be home for a few hours.
However, what Joe doesn’t know is that Marjorie has a can of bug spray and, as soon as Joe lets his guard down, she sprays it in his eyes and his mouth. When the stunned and temporarily blinded Joe stumbles back, Marjorie pushes him into the fireplace and ties him up. Realizing that he may have ingested toxic chemicals, Joe begs to be released but Marjorie has other plans….
And I was all for it! I was really looking forward to watching Marjorie torment her attacker. Unfortunately, Marjorie’s two roommate show up before Marjorie can really get started. Terry (Diana Scarwid) is shocked when Marjorie explains that she’s planning on burying Joe alive but, as a rape survivor, Terry also knows that, even after all of this, the police will still not be of any help. Meanwhile, Pat (Alfre Woodard) is a social worker, which means that she has to be the tedious voice of moderation. She’s the one who says that they can’t kill Joe and that Joe might not even actually be the man who attacked Marjorie….
And that, right there, is one of the main problems with Extremities. We spend a lot of time listening to Pat argue that it’s not right to torture anyone and that Marjorie might be mistaken and maybe Joe really was just some innocent guy who needed to use the phone. However, we know that Marjorie’s right, Pat’s wrong, and Joe’s the attack. As a result, it’s impossible not to get annoyed when Pat keeps going on and on. We know exactly who Joe is and what we want is to see Marjorie get both justice and her revenge. We want to see Joe suffer. What we don’t want to do is spend 30 minutes listening to two thinly drawn characters debate the ethics of what Marjorie’s doing. Perhaps if the film had begun with Pat and Terry coming home and discovering Joe already trapped in the fireplace, Pat’s concerns would have carried more weight. There would have been a hint of ambiguity and we’d have to decide if we believed the word of the obviously traumatized Marjorie or the obviously desperate Joe. But we already know that Marjorie’s right about who Joe is so who cares what Pat thinks?
If you didn’t already know that Extremities was based on a stage play, you’d be able to guess it after watching the movie. With the exception of the film’s opening scenes, Extremities plays out in one location and, as a result, the film feels very stage-bound. While the late Farrash Fawcett gives a brave and emotionally raw performance as Marjorie, Alfre Woodard, Diana Scarwid, and James Russo all give overly mannered performances that add to the film’s staginess.
In both its visual aesthetic and its cultural outlook, Extremities is very much a film of its time. With the exception of Fawcett’s harrowing performance, Extremities feels like a relic of the past. If the film were made today, there’d be no question that Joe would end up dying in that fireplace. The only suspense would be rather Pat or Terry would be the one to dig the grave.