New to Instant Netflix: Peter Jackson's Best Film to Date: Heavenly Creatures

By Dustin Rowles | Film | August 9, 2011 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Film | August 9, 2011 |

That's because Heavenly Creatures, as the saying goes, is more about the journey than the destination, even if that shocking destination culminates in blood (depicted in the film's opening scene). Heavenly Creatures also represents Peter Jackson at his best, in that brief but wonderful period in his career that also includes Dead Alive and The Frighteners when Jackson had only his massive talent with which to work, before that was waylaid by a giant ego and millions and millions of dollars of other people's money. Undoubtedly Jackson is a brilliant director, and his latest,Lovely Bones, could have been as equally compelling, fantastic, and dark as Heavenly Creatures had Jackson's need to show off not gotten in the way.

It helps that Heavenly Creatures is such a small, intimate story populated with few characters and little in the way of actual developments leading up to the film's tragic denouement. Jackson, who co-wrote the script with Fran Walsh, borrowing heavily from Pauline's diary, seamlessly fills those gaps with vibrant, lush and eye-popping fantasy sequences. More importantly, Jackson decides to focus not on the crime committed at the end of the film, but on the friendship that drives Pauline and Juliet to commit such an act, regarded as one of the most evil, despicable and callous crimes of the era. Thanks to Jackson's ability to develop those characters, as well as their friendship, we understand their motivation, even if we cannot quite sympathize. It's shocking, but not exactly appalling.

The performances, too, are remarkable, especially that of Kate Winslet, in her first major film role. Nineteen at the time, Winslet brilliantly brings her 14-year-old character to believable life, even if her face doesn't quite look the age. Melanie Lynskey, plucked from obscurity, also does an exceptional job of selling that almost out-of-control midway point between obsession and creepiness (Weird Fact: Lynskey also had a recurring character in "Two and a Half Men" named Pauline Parker). The rest of the cast suitably fits Jackson's magical realist world, a world where Orson Welles is not just the devil, but a devil that roams the streets, and a devil with whom the teenage girls wants to sleep.

But it is commanding force of Jackson that turns this dark tale into a dazzling and spirited tragedy. He creates a movie that is both compelling and haunting, long before you understand what is haunting about it. The eeriness simply glides between the schoolgirl giggles, and there is something unshakably sinister in their echoes. It's a chilling and unforgettable film, a much-needed reminder that, after 15 years of huge, sometimes bloated epics, Heavenly Creatures is the movie that rightfully earned Peter Jackson the right to make them.

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