HEAVENLY CREATURES. 1994. DIRECTED BY PETER JACKSON. STARRING KATE WINSLET AND MELANIE LYNSKEY. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is a hard film to review. It’s a perfect example of an excellent film, well-directed and acted and scripted, but one which deals with an extraordinarily painful topic. Based on a true story and directed by a pre-LORD OF THE RINGS Peter Jackson, it stars Kate Winslet as Juliet Hulme, an English teenager dragged from pillar to post by her wealthy parents in a post-war world.
In 1952, her father’s career as a stuffy academic and physicist causes the Hulmes to pitch up in Christchurch, New Zealand. In Juliet’s new school, she immediately makes a huge impression on another student, Pauline Yvonne Rieper. Juliet, bright, confident, pretty and rich, is everything that poor plain, dumpy Pauline is not. The two girls form an instant alliance that, right from the off, seems to exclude the world around them.
The girls live in the rarefied air of their own personal bubble. They make up long, involved stories about two people called Charles and Deborah, in whose personalities they seem to get lost at times. They invent a whole entire fantasy world for these characters- Borovnia- and there are times when they appear to be living in this world for real in their heads. The surreal scenes in the film in which this happens are brilliant and also a little eerie.
I think that when the cast and crew of THE SIMPSONS were making the episode in which Lisa Simpson and her new friend Juliet (Juliet…???) create their own magical and exclusive world of Equalia, complete with unicorns grazing gently in sun-dappled meadows, they must surely have had this film in mind. I’m just saying, is all…
The girls’ attachment to each other is frighteningly intense, unhealthy and all-consuming. So much so, in fact, that it even turns sexual, at which point the two sets of parents decide to put their collective foot down and separate the pair for good.
When the separation threatens to place the girls in two different continents, they perform an act of violence so shocking, so pointlessly and disgustingly barbaric, that it’s hard, very hard, to watch it being played out on the screen. I don’t think I’d want to say what it is even if it didn’t constitute a massive spoiler, haha.
The film-makers seem to go out of their way to portray Juliet as the less guilty of the two. She’s messed-up and deeply insecure through no fault of her own. She has emotionally distant, neglectful parents who see her only as a piece of luggage to be shipped off whenever she becomes an inconvenience.
Also, the character of Juliet is played by an exceptionally beautiful young woman, English rose Kate Winslet, four years before TITANIC, in a sensational acting debut. In this case, beauty really does seem to represent the lighter side of this two-headed monster.
Pauline, on the other hand, has loving, attentive, hard-working parents who actually give a shit about what becomes of their daughter, who is made to look mean, sulky and almost evil throughout. Her crime seems all the more distasteful and grotesque because of her family situation and background. The narrowed close-ups of her unprepossessing, angry face seems to say to the viewer:
‘Look at her face! She’s definitely the evil one! Look at her, she’s evil…!’
The New Zealand scenery is glorious, a little foretaste of what’s in store for us a few years later when Peter Jackson films the legendary Tolkien trilogy. The gorgeous rolling hills and fields are strangely at odds with the grim nature of the subject matter.
Actually, the appearance of the logo for WINGNUT FILMS at the start of the movie made me expect to hear haunting LORD OF THE RINGS-style music starting up. HEAVENLY CREATURES has its own top-notch musical score, featuring songs from Mario Lanza.
This film is an utterly gripping watch, but you probably won’t be sleeping easy for a while after you watch it. It’s a hard one to stomach.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
1) ‘… BY A WOMAN WALKING HER DOG…’
2) A WRITER’S JOURNEY
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4) ANOTHER FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
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