By Doug Cummings
Arizona Daily Wildcat
"Heavenly Creatures," the new film from director Peter Jackson ("Dead Alive") is a hallucinatory film with surreal imagery and sudden shifts in scenery. It depicts the true story of two young schoolgirls who lived in New Zealand in 1952 and the tragedy they produced.
Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) is a dour and depressed ninth-grade student at a parochial school in the small town of Christchurch. One day, she strikes up a friendship with Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet), a lively new student whose culturally-elite parents have taught her to worship the arts.
Pauline begins documenting their intense friendship in her diary, writing about the girls' imaginary "fourth world" of art and royal patrons. Despite their parents' growing concern, the girls' friendship becomes obsessive and deeply romantic, resulting in resentment and explosive violence.
The film uses the latest in digital technology to recreate the girls' imagination. As they run through the New Zealand countryside, the landscape "morphs" itself into a fantasy land of gigantic butterflies and royal courtyards. Their imagination is exhilarating and so are the visuals.
But the girls' fantasies are escapist, hiding from a world of emotional abuse and unsympathetic parents. Their dreams cover layers of hatred and remorse and it's unfortunate that director Jackson isn't as concerned with reality as much as he is with fantasy. Jackson has said that the movie presents a tragedy with "no villains," insinuating that the girls' were subject to their own fantasies and shouldn't be held entirely responsible for their violent action. The movie uncomfortably uses fantasy as an excuse for the violence that occurs.
In fact, the movie's preponderance for startling visuals, shimmering effects, and unpredictable camera work overworks what could have been a fascinating character study. But Pauline's bitterness, established in her first scene, is taken for face-value and never completely explained. While enjoying her fantasies, the audience nevertheless fails to know who she is.
The acting is fine throughout, particularly by the leads. Melanie Lynskey, in her film debut, and Kate Winslet ("Casualty") develop a good rapport on screen and their relationship is presented convincingly. Winslet exhibits a fierce energy and dramatic enthusiasm that substantiates the girls' passion for imagination.
"Heavenly Creatures" is a startling, well-filmed movie that is provocative and imaginative, but overdone and thematically lopsided. Fantasies can be exhilarating and flamboyant, but they stem from real people with complex thoughts. The Parker/Hulme affair is a fascinating story that deserves a more "realistic" approach.
"Heavenly Creatures" is showing at Century Park 16, 620-0750.
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