April 21, 2009

Justify My Netflix: Heavenly Creatures

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Heavenly Creatures

Today's movie: Heavenly Creatures, 1994 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix)

Why I added it to my queue: Because it was the first big breakthrough project for Peter Jackson, long before he made The Lord of the Rings (or LOTR) -- a dramatic look at the sensational 1954 Parker-Hulme murder that shocked post-war New Zealand, in which two introverted teenage girls beat one of their mothers to death with a brick, after the mom tried to put a stop to their complicated, possibly lesbian relationship (one where the two created an elaborate fantasy world that they emotionally sunk into more and more, as their friendship got ever deeper and more complex). Because it was this film that inspired the opening of the special-effects company WETA Digital, which would eventually have such a big impact on Jackson's LOTR series almost a decade later. Because this was also the film that inspired Miramax to sign Jackson to a "first-look" contract for future movies, essentially kick-starting his reputation in the US. Because if this wasn't enough, it was also the film debut of popular actor Kate Winslet, who would go on to do Titanic just a few years later. Because if this still wasn't enough, this film was also the source for a full-length parody on The Simpsons, an episode from just this year entitled "Lisa the Drama Queen."

The reality: Well, to begin with, this movie makes it a lot easier to understand why Jackson's next project is an adaptation of the Alice Sebold novel The Lovely Bones, yet another lightly fantastical but mostly realistic drama concerning teenage girls and brutal murders; and it also supports the idea that it was actually Fran Walsh, Jackson's wife and producing partner, who was the real push behind him taking on both. Because the fact is that before Heavenly Creatures, Jackson was known exclusively for childishly funny low-budget gross-out horror flicks, with no one even guessing at the time that he was capable of an Oscar-nominated historical drama like he turns in here. Ah, but much like his more famous LOTR movies, this project turned out to be perfect for his particular sensibilities; because Jackson ends up really playing up the fantasy-world elements of this story, creating a fully-realized "Borovnia" out of the teens' real-life fever-dream diary entries on the subject, and by doing so really helps show why these repressed, sexually confused girls would retreat to this fantasyland as profoundly as they did. And in the meanwhile, the movie's worth the rental price alone just for Winslet's creepily cheerful portrayal of Juliet Hulme, and of the way she can make a wide smile and bright eyes look so thoroughly like a mark of legitimate psychosis. I had never really given much thought before to the acting skills of Winslet; but man, after this tour-de-force, I'll be paying a lot more attention from now on.

If I had watched it when it first came out: I would've yelled, "Hey, this isn't some cheap gross-out horror comedy! What the f-ck, Jackson?"

Strangest piece of trivia: Much like with LOTR, Jackson became rather obsessed during this movie with showing off as much of New Zealand as he could, and especially in filming scenes whenever possible at the exact same locations where they occurred in real life. As a matter of fact, the crew had been set to shoot the murder scene on the exact same spot on a local nature trail where the actual murder took place; but then at the last minute they all got creeped out, and moved a hundred yards down instead.

Worth your time? Oh, without a doubt.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 3:11 PM, April 21, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |