The story of a young girl born to replace her dead sister, haunted by nightmares of rapists in the woods and physically and emotionally abused while being kept isolated in a Victorian mansion is brought to life - Virginia Andrews' standalone novel published in 1982 was a really compelling Gothic thriller and has inspired both this movie and a sequel written by Andrew Neiderman (V.C. Andrews' Ghostwriter) "Whitefern" - so It is safe to say that 2016 is Audrina Adare's year.
As some readers will know from my previous blogs about this film, I have been optimistic about this film and looking forward to this film adaptation as I enjoyed the book and was overall impressed with the casting choices. However, after watching this film I was slightly disappointed with certain elements of the film and although I did like the dark cinematography and settings, I felt like the narrative could have been a lot better and made this film so much more faithful to the book.
Living in her family's secluded mansion, Audrina is kept alone and out of sight and is haunted by nightmares of her older sister, First Audrina, who was left for dead in the woods after an attack. As she begins to question her past and her disturbing dreams, the grim truth is slowly revealed.
The film starts with the Adare/Whitefern clan gathered around the First Audrina's grave (Imogen Tear) as the Second Audrina (Farryn VanHumbeck) reflects on how her parents loved The First Audrina the most, feeling like she has to live up to the expectations of her dead sister who was attacked and murdered in the woods as a child before Audrina 0.2. was born. Audrina lives with her creepily obsessive father Damien (James Tupper) , her heavily pregnant mother Lucietta who seemed emotionally detached (Kirsten Robek), the uncharacteristically quiet and obedient Aunt Ellsbeth (Jennifer Copping) and the manipulative cousin Vera (Kacey Rohl) in the secluded Whitefern Manor.
Vera enjoys taunting Audrina as she struggles with remembering the date or events from her past - it doesn't really help that the calendars and clocks make no sense whatsoever and she is given sleeping pills that knock her out for hours - and Damien has the delusional mission to give Audrina "the memories of her dead sister" and forces her to sit in First Audrina's old bedroom and rock in her rocking chair to embrace her dead sister's essence, but instead Audrina is traumatised by visions of the First Audrina being chased and raped in the woods by three attackers. As far as First Audrina goes, Second Audrina is forbidden to ask about her sister (which is odd due to the fact she's constantly being told to be more like her sister, but God forbid she ask if her older sister was a good piano player) or go into the woods. However, when she sees the boy next door Arden (Seth Isaac Johnson) and a brief conversation in the woods takes a dramatic turn as Audrina's mother collapses in a pool of blood and Audrina rushes in to see her mother glare up at her tearfully as she cries "You went into the woods... Why did you do that?" - I didn't like how this caused a premature labor and Audrina to be ridden with blame and guilt, this certainly didn't happen in the book and I certainly didn't like what happened next... Audrina's sister Sylvia died, they killed off a main character within twenty minutes who actually survives to the end of the book, but I shall get back to that later. India Eisley, Tess Atkins and Wiliam Moesley take on the roles of Audrina, Vera and Arden as the narrative does a seven year jump - Vera has become increasingly sexually active and brags about her lovers in explicit detail which enrages Damien, Arden has become a Disney Prince in comparison to his very flawed character in the book and Audrina has grown into a polite and modest young woman, but the visions of First Audrina still haunt her and she is absolutely terrified of any intimacy. The sinister playroom has now become a place of sanctuary as Audrina slowly starts to discover that those closet to her have very dark secrets.
The cinematography in this film was gorgeous and I absolutely loved Mike Rohl's filming style that brought a very Gothic feel to the film. Each shot was perfectly framed and the flashbacks scenes in the playroom or woods were very sinister with both the colouring being darker and the creative camera angles that made the story work effortlessly. Rohl was by far one of the best directors to take on a V.C. Andrews adaptation and I thought his direction worked really well. The setting of this film seems to be 1970s, judging by the characters' clothes and cars and the basic mise-en-scene on the sets which stays true to the book - but we only see two houses and some greenery outside to go on.
India Eisley was definitely a perfect casting choice for Audrina, her portrayal of her character's shy innocence was very believable and seeing her making that transition into a stronger and independent woman was great to see. Eisley really captured her character's personality and I believed in her performances that really brought Audrina's complex character to the screen - My only criticism is that her British accent did come across in her voice during quite a few of her scenes, it's commonly known she has a bit of a British tone in her American accent which was not really an issue for me and I thought she gave a terrific performance overall. Farryn and Imogen who played the younger versions of Audrina did immensely well in the flashbacks - Farryn had Audrina spot on as the nervous girl who wanted to be obedient daughter, but secretly longed to be given the freedom her cousin Vera always had and her scenes being trapped the mansion reminded me of a folklore fairy-tale, especially her skipping nervously over the colours from the stain-glass window singing a creepy nursery rhyme. Imogen Tear was outstanding in her flashback scenes, she portrayed such depth in her performances and was absolutely heartbreaking in her role. All three actresses did extremely well as Audrina at different stages of her life, brilliant castings there.
Tess Akins did very well as Vera in her most shocking and vindictive moments as a young adult, but the writing for the role felt very one dimensional in this film and could have been a lot more in depth. Andrews spent great detail in writing Vera as a complex antagonist and the reader got to see how years of neglect, abuse and rejection turned Vera into the woman she would become, the screenwriter had some good material to work off - Akins did great with her scenes, but some of her dialogue was a bit off (I have no idea why this was even added, but Vera randomly turned around and said "There's something so erotic about babbies, they suck on your boobs all day long." She never said anything like that in the book and it sounded utterly ridiculous!) and I wanted to see the different sides that explained Vera's true motivation for revenge. Kacey Rohl (who is also director Mike Rohl's daughter) was spectacular as teenage Vera, who gave a fantastic performance as the delusional and bitter girl and it was a bit of a shame she only had three scenes but she did brilliantly. Little Vera was played by Hannah Cheramy in one flashback scene, she did good in her scene with Imogen although it felt a little too nice - it basically lead into the sinister climax of the film, there needed to be a dark shot of Evil Vera walking through the woods before the other flashback to confirm Vera was responsible for the attack.
William Moesley as Arden was a bit of a let down, his acting was decent but his character was completely different from the novel and I believe this is to do with the death of Sylvia. Judging Moesley purely on his acting, I thought he gave a pretty good performance and apart from one slip up, his American accent was consistent and I was impressed with his performances. Arden seemed to be without fault and even when his darkest secret was revealed, he came up smelling of selfless roses - My problem with Arden was not the acting because I thought Moesley was a good choice, it was the direction the character was taken and I felt like Moesley could have played his character as a much darker anti-hero instead of the perfect romantic lead if he had the right material. Alas, without Sylvia there for Audrina, Arden was written in a much nicer and appealing light and the contrast between his personalities in the book and film were apparent. Despite this, William Moesley did very well with this part and gave great performances. The younger versions of Arden were both good, but I did think Cory Gruter-Andrew did a brilliant job in the flashback scene and Seth Isaac Johnson was okay but his scenes were very brief.
James Tupper as Damien Adare was extremely intense and creepy, some scenes were a bit uncomfortable to watch - he really committed to this sinister role. He's a very obsessive character and definitely tries to control each of his family members by cruel means of manipulation. This is seen in the emotional abuse of Audrina as he tries to make her into the replacement of the First Audrina and is physically violent towards Vera - his relationship with his sister-in-law is another thing entirely. I feel like this was a very well cast role, Tupper seemed very well suited and portrayed a very sadistic and dark role while showing subtle hints of humanity.
Jennifer Copping as Aunt Ellsbeth was another good cast, but I felt like the character herself was written too timid and obedient - whereas in the book she was fiery and always spoke her mind. Copping did well as the character and visually she looked how I would picture and did great in her scenes, but her characteristics in this film reminded me of Lucky from the book for a good half of this adaptation. Towards the end of Copping's character arc, we saw Ellsbeth start to stand up to and challenge Damien was a treat to see and captured more of the Ellsbeth from the novel.
Kirsten Robek as Lucietta was a similar situation - great casting, very out of character. Instead of being the compassionate and gentle mother, she was quite harsh and abrupt in one scene with young Audrina, which was admittedly quite surprising. Robek did well in her scenes though and although her scenes were brief, I absolutely adored her acting in the climax flashback scenes - she did terrific in those scenes and the emotion she portrayed was flawless. The only thing which was very disappointing in regards to Lucietta was how she was killed off (which was quite different from the book) and also the fact that Sylvia also died during the childbirth scenes.
Matthew Kevin Anderson as Lemar did an okay job, but could have been developed a bit more. I had a more Daniel Giles style in mind, the noble and smartly dressed gentleman like his character on The Originals - Instead Anderson looked more like a wannabe rocker in his first introduction scene and I felt his performance was lacking in something. I understand that there are time limits to further develop his character, but he was in a total of three scenes and although he gave a good performance I would have liked to see the darker undertones of his character - especially in his relationship with Vera.
Overall, this was a good film - but it could have been brilliant. Scarlett Lacey is a great screenwriter from her work on The Royals and did a decent job writing this adaptation, but it felt like the filmmakers played it too safe taking on this adaptation. There are many dark and mature subject matters that they portrayed very well, but the changes made in regards to Sylvia and Arden made the film lack its true emotion from the novel. Understandably, scenes and characters have to be cut when adapting a 400 page book and condensing it into a 120 page script, but cutting a central character like Sylvia really affected the narrative of the story. Anyone who read the book knows Sylvia is autistic and her disability played a huge part in this story as Audrina became her carer and guardian from a young age, thus keeping her in this twisted home for the next fifteen years. The true love story of this novel was the sisterly bond between Audrina and Sylvia and the maternal love Audrina had for her younger sister - so many of the sibling relationships in this story were damaged beyond repair and yet Audrina was very protective of Sylvia and likewise for her as Sylvia was the one to save Audrina from the murderous Vera. Casting this character for the screen would be difficult as Sylvia's disability is never actually stated (although it's been confirmed that she had autism) so they could have cast a Downs Syndrome actress to play this role if they could not cast an autistic actress - there are many talented Downs actors and actresses on TV these days and casting a young actress with Downs to play Sylvia would have been a much better alternative than killing off her character as the relationship between these two sisters was the heart of the book.
If you have read the book, you may be a little disappointed and if you have just seen the film I recommend reading the book - it has so many more layers to it's characters and themes. This was a decent film, but could have been better and I am looking forward to reading the sequel Whitefern this summer.