Heavenly Creatures (1994) (R)

Before Peter Jackson became known for fantasy and in between his cult horror flicks of yesteryear and his massive success of today, he made a little picture called "Heavenly Creatures" which remains unfalteringly questionable, deeply disturbing at moments, and an uncompromised film. While it may seem like a love story, a kinship saga, or the influence of parental hypocrisy—one thing if for certain: you can't be quite sure what the film really wants you to believe.
At an all girls' school in New Zealand, Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) doesn't fit in. She's a loner and doesn't seem to mind staying in her own sphere, that is, until Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet) comes to the school. This English girl has an unflappable spirit, and she won't take crap from the teachers, who all assume the "dark overlord" cliche that we have come to expect from these types of settings.
The two become friends and it doesn't take them long to show each other their literal childhood scars.
They begin to write a book about knights and ladies and ravaging and lack of chivalry together as their days start to blur into montages.
For Pauline, Juliet is the doorway to step into something a little less formulaic and for Juliet, Pauline is the pursuer. Neither of them is bothered with labels, but both sets of their parents are, who come down hard on the girls for living in a fairy tale and spending too much time with each other.
The surrealism of "Heavenly Creatures"is what is most surprising. At first, the film whirls quickly and the camera spins wildly and you get the feeling that the setting is being made, but that's not the case. The entire movie jumps from style to style, never fully claiming one as its own, and melodrama is supreme here. Jackson uses cliches, tropes, and technology to make every scene just as puzzlingly moving as the last. For here lies the movie's biggest secret: it is emotional, and it shouldn't be. There should be no reaction from the audience, and yet, I couldn't help but give one. Lynskey and Winslet are so good and the movie is so subtle and so loud simultaneously that I couldn't help but be caught up in the whirlwind of it all.
At times, the film seems inappropriately funny, considering the subject matter that it's juggling; but these times are so zany and so beyond description that it feels as if you're entering the mind of the character, which is precisely what Jackson wants it to feel like.
The story that "Heavenly Creatures" tells is a true one, supposedly, and it is based off the diary of Pauline, thus it would make the most sense to be in her head.
The movie's politics may give rise to questionable correctness; but I don't think the intention of the film was to harm, even though it may do so just by its existence.
In any case, the film succeeds so well because of its two previously unknown stars and because of its constant self-understanding. There is nothing so refreshing as seeing Jackson take his gloves off and present a wide-sweeping, unexplained, horror-meets-sentimental-meets-problem drama.
Perhaps its own scope is the reason why the movie isn't great; but for what it was trying to accomplish and for what it does, I can't help but be amazed at the virtual tight-rope that Jackson walked.
It's pretty stunning, often frustrating, somewhat laughable, and absolutely impossible to tear your eyes away from.

Score: ★★★½

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