Chilling, suspenseful, wonderful: Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures is still lingering with me days after I watched it. Although I had initial qualms with slow points (easily explained: Netflix sends the “uncut” version) those concerns were quickly put to rest as the film built up steam. Jackson is at his finest here, directing (mostly) layered performances, structuring and organizing the plot extremely well, and creating a tight script (with wife and writing partner Fran Walsh).
As a director, I often focus on the arcs that characters and plots undergo. To me, the changes and transformations made in a story are the most intriguing (what would a story be without change and transformation) and thus when analyzing performance or plot that’s the first place I look to critique. And in this film, Jackson and his players are certainly spot on. Lynskey is stunning, opening the film quiet and reserved, and ending with murder. Likewise, Kate Winslet is a revelation. Her transformation is subtler and internalized, and all the more powerful for it. While her performance isn’t as nuanced as her more recent work (I did find myself cringing at a few line readings) it’s still commendable – this part is no picnic, and she does a tremendous job with complex material.
Structurally, it’s quite typical Peter Jackson; psychological human drama mixed with elements of fantasy or fairy tale (see: The Lovely Bones, King Kong, The Lord of the Rings – yes really!). In this case, the fantasy is a world dreamed up by the two girls. The art direction is great for the fantasy sequences, as you’d expect from Jackson standbys Grant Major (Production Designer), Richard Taylor (prosthetics designer), and Ngila Dickson (Costume Designer). And for the most part, they fit well with the movie, as their frequency sort of signifies the girls’ descent into ‘madness.’ An early sequence, referencing a “fourth world” felt awkward though, and although the point was made (“they’re crazy”) without being referenced again it simply felt like an ignored subplot or idea.
Overall though, Heavenly Creatures completely captivated me and had me gripping the edge of my seat with anticipation. It’s brilliantly crafted, and proves that Peter Jackson is not just a one trick ring-bearing pony – he’s a masterful storyteller and intelligent filmmaker.
5 stars out of 5.