The film is about Mark Lewis, a guy who works on a camera crew pulling focus during the day but murders women and films their murders at night. Like all serial killers in movies, he is obsessed with his parents - his father, a psychologist, used Mark as a guinea pig in experiments about fear. I found the movie to be really creepy and fascinating. Mark is so smooth and cool but such a freak. He kills people with a knife that is concealed in his camera tripod, which is such a strange idea but it works so very well.
In Ebert's essay, he brings up Martin Scorsese's obsession with Powell and this film, writing of his analysis, "Martin Scorsese once said that this movie, and Federico Fellini's ``8 1/2,'' contain all that can be said about directing. The Fellini film is about the world of deals and scripts and show biz, and the Powell is about the deep psychological process at work when a filmmaker tells his actors to do as he commands, while he stands in the shadows and watches" (The Great Movies, 354). I thought that this was such an interesting analysis. It makes a lot of sense, and it really gave me a different sort of respect for the film.
I think Ebert mentions one of the reasons why this movie was unpopular with critics, writing, "The movies make us into voyeurs. We sit in the dark, watching other people's lives. It is the bargain the cinema strikes with us, although most films are too well-behaved to mention it" (The Great Movies, 354). No one wants to watch a film where they feel implicated in the crime that is going on. If we are voyeurs for watching, we are like Mark in the movie, which is an uncomfortable feeling. It's only normal to not want to feel like the killer we are watching - it's like the movie is pointing to us and calling us out on this bargain that Ebert writes about that we normally ignore. We don't feel bad about watching people murdered or tortured in other movies, because they never call us out on what we are doing - being voyeurs, just like Mark.
If you like horror movies at all, this is very much worth checking out. It's streaming on Netflix and it's not too long. It's shot really well and the color is so perfect. I really hope you give this movie a chance - it's a little more normal, I think, than the movies I have watched before, since the genre and subject are so familiar. And who doesn't love movies about serial killers? No one, that's who.
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Peeping Tom