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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

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NOTE: I am now all moved in in Portland Oregon and can once again resume my standard one review per week, get excited! Now all Fuckshit! photos will have that snazzy white background from my new apartment that you see below.

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This is another film I saw as a teenager and didn't have feelings about it one way or the other but when I saw it again as an adult I could appreciate its genius. Films about true crime are often a bit of a mixed bag, featuring rather exploitative elements or inappropriate humor of some sort, and I am pleased to say that this film suffers from neither of these problems. In fact to top things off it takes a completely different approach all together.

Have a peek at the trailer if you aren't already familiar:


I've always had a thing for true crime movies and period pieces, so putting both together is the best possible combination for me. The film tells the tale behind the (still infamous) story behind the Parker-Hulme murder. For those of you not savvy to what I'm laying down, the events occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1954. Two young schoolmates, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme (played by Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet in their first film roles) bond over their respective ailments/injuries. They share a love of art and storytelling so vivd to them that they escape further and further into their make believe and the real world becomes an enigma. Their friendship was safe to say incredibly close, some feared too close (this later lead to mass speculation that they had a homosexual relationship which created quite a media frenzy despite such allegations being claimed false). When circumstances take a turn for the worse and it seems that they will be separated forever, Pauline hatches a plan to kill her mother, who she views as the only thing standing in her way.

Needless to say that they succeeded in killing Pauline's mum with a brick inside of a stocking pretty successfully, after that their cover up efforts were less than convincing. They claimed she "died in a fall" but their story fell apart relatively quickly and both were sentenced to prison. While the film only covers the period of time where Pauline and Juliet meet to immediately after they kill Pauline's mum (we all know how the trial turned out), I felt it a good idea to give you the whole story. Besides, you probably know about the case already if you've taken the time to find out about this movie anyway so it's not like I'm spoon feeding the thing away now am I?

But enough about the real world events that give the movie its meat, I want to talk about the film and it's rather unique vision. One thing I should note is that this was directed by now household name Peter Jackson. Heavenly Creatures was his fourth theatrical effort, and I feel it is one of his strongest. We all know him from Dead Alive or the Lord Of The Rings trilogy but a period piece about one of New Zealand's most notorious murder cases (or at least about the characters themselves) is a refreshing change of pace. I think that if this movie were made by anyone else, it wouldn't have been quite so quirky and strange, and probably would have been a bit more dramatic and by the numbers.

Why do I say that? The entire movie is basically told through the eyes of two teenage girls. All of the adults seem completely disconnected from how the two children feel about anything (sound familiar?), and good portions of the film take place in Pauline and Juliet's fantasy world- it's a place filled with life size clay people bearing striking resemblance to everyone from Mario Lanza (their ULTIMATE crush) to Orson Welles. Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey's acting is terrifically convincing, definitely due to the fact that they were both teenagers themselves when they starred in this, something which an American movie would probably never ever do nowadays for subject matter like this. Large portions of narration are apparently taken directly from the Journal of Pauline Parker as well (which Ms. Lynskey delivers with incredible teenage angst and wonderment by the way) which further cements their view of the world at such a tender age. To have made this film in any other way would have been unimaginative, dull, and morose.

Also noteworthy is the lack of any scenes having to do with the trial. With a case this well known I don't really think it is all that necessary, unless something ridiculously sensational happened during the proceedings. So instead Jackson opted to have the trial information done as postscript, which I feel leaves a very strong ending to a film that at its very beginning seems cute and in a completely different place (sans the very first scene of them running about covered in blood of course). The rather playful (but still deadly ernest) atmosphere of the film is completely opposed to the subject matter but at the same time compliments it in a way that no other film could really pull off and still have it work without being an awful comedy of some sort or other (as I mentioned earlier, but sometimes it's nice to repeat oneself for the sake of effect).

Do I recommend this film? Wholeheartedly. The direction and visuals are terrific, the casting/acting is great, and I can't really find much anything wrong with it. Make no mistake, this movie is the complete package and I hope Peter Jackson will do something of this ilk again at some point in the future. Sure he's great with oodles of SFX eye candy but seeing a film where he directs characters and not a set piece is something to behold.

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