×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Heavenly Creatures

Having flirted with cult favor for some time via inventively witty sci-fi and splatter excursions like "Bad Taste" and "Braindead," New Zealander Peter Jackson positions himself to be catapulted far beyond that with his startling fourth feature, "Heavenly Creatures."

With:
Pauline Parker - Melanie Lynsky
Juliet Hulme - Kate Winslet
Honora Parker - Sarah Peirse
Hilda Hulme - Diana Kent
Henry Hulme - Clive Merrison
Herbert Rieper - Simon O'Connor

Having flirted with cult favor for some time via inventively witty sci-fi and splatter excursions like “Bad Taste” and “Braindead,” New Zealander Peter Jackson positions himself to be catapulted far beyond that with his startling fourth feature, “Heavenly Creatures.” An exhilarating retelling of a 1950s tabloid murder, it combines original vision, a drop-dead command of the medium and a successful marriage between a dazzling, kinetic techno-show and a complex, credible portrait of the out-of-control relationship between the crime’s two schoolgirl perpetrators. The sum total should prompt celestial B.O. in exclusive-release situations pitched at the young hipster bracket, with breakthrough potential hinging on stellar reviews.

The film stands to cleave auds into love-it and leave-it camps, and will no doubt encounter opposition for its flashy bag of tricks, which some may feel crowds out psychological depth. But what’s rejected in some circles as being hammered by showiness and style will be embraced in others as an adrenalin-pumping rush of inexhaustible visual creativity.

Opening with the panicked aftermath of the killing, Jackson makes an attention-grabbing leap from a fusty Brit newsreel of sedate downtown Christchurch, replete with cheery commentary, to a frenetic Sam Raimiesque tracking sequence in which the blood-spattered teenage girls emerge hysterical from a secluded wood.

He then backtracks to reveal the somewhat morose and short-on-self-confidence Pauline (Melanie Lynsky) being snapped out of her shell by the arrival at school of imperious English girl Juliet (Kate Winslet), who briskly provides her with a role model by mercilessly correcting the French teacher’s grammar just minutes after entering the class.

Voiceovers of entries from the real Pauline’s diaries link the story.

The friendship quickly spirals to passionate interdependence, tracking the pair’s hyperactive pursuit of pleasure with manic, often menacing vigor, and sweeping the audience along to the rollicking sound of tunes sung by the girls’ favorite tenor, Mario Lanza.

They soon begin seeing themselves as intellectually superior to everyone around them, creating an Arthurian fantasyland which is home to two lovers and their remorseless, mass-murdering son.

Jackson slips into the realm of their imagination in a gorgeous sequence that morphs rolling countryside into sculpted gardens, with frolicking unicorns and giant butterflies swooping overhead. Subsequent segs take them to a castle (in the kingdom they call Borovnia).

The boundaries of their fantasies begin intruding on real life, amusingly so in a classroom scene in which a monarchy-mad teacher is shocked by Juliet’s account of a debauched Borovnia in place of the required essay on the royal family.

Their idyll hits an obstacle when Juliet is hospitalized for tuberculosis, the enforced separation making them more hostile to outsiders. A priest pushing Jesus on Juliet is dragged off and beheaded by an imaginary Borovnian. Later, another fantasy figure swiftly disembowels a psychiatrist.

Both girls become more distanced from their families. Pauline resents her hokey folks’ unworldliness, and Juliet’s disdainful, well-heeled parents are too preoccupied with each other to pay attention to her. When their marital split threatens to definitively separate the girls, a lethal plan is hatched.

The real strength of the characterization by scripters Jackson and Frances Walsh, and the two instinctive young thesps, is that despite their deadly purposefulness, Juliet and Pauline are never turned into monsters. Played with infinite sympathy, they give the impression of being drawn into a vortex in which the terms of survival dictate the harshest course of action.

Their bond falls into unclassifiable territory, being neither an innocent, misconstrued friendship, nor an acknowledged lesbian relationship. This ambiguity is deftly shown in a scene where they make love, imagining each other as their Borovnian idols.

Backup from the adult cast is strong, with Diana Kent and Clive Merrison as Juliet’s parents. Simon O’Connor is touching as Pauline’s father, at something of a loss to understand what’s happening to her, but valiantly keeping his chin up with a run of innocuously dumb comments.

As her quietly tragic mother, gradually revealed to be a less-than-perfect take on the ’50s suburban housewife, Sarah Peirse is terrific. Eccentricity amongst the school’s teaching body sometimes feels like it’s plied on a little thickly.

Alun Bollinger’s lensing has barely a stationary moment, invigorating the events with an impressive barrage of aggressive shooting techniques and effective filtering of color and light.

Widescreen format is impeccably filled with eye-catching compositions. Peter Dasent’s forceful music, James Selkirk’s editing and a large quota of effects ranging from sophistication to deliberate jokiness all contribute significantly.

Popular on Variety

Heavenly Creatures

New Zealand

Production: A Miramax Intl. presentation of a WingNut Films/Fontana Film Prods. co-production in association with the New Zealand Film Commission. Produced by Jim Booth. Executive producer, Hanno Huth. Co-producer, director, Peter Jackson. Screenplay, Jackson, Frances Walsh.

Crew: Camera (Eastman color, Cinemascope), Alun Bollinger; editor, James Selkirk; music, Peter Dasent; production design, Grant Major; art direction, Jill Cormack; costume design, Ngila Dickson; sound (Dolby) , Michael Hedges; prosthetic effects, Richard Taylor; digital effects, George Port; assistant director, Carolynne Cunningham; casting, John and Ros Hubbard (U.K.), Liz Mullane (New Zealand). Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 7, 1994. Running time: 99 min.

With: Pauline Parker - Melanie Lynsky
Juliet Hulme - Kate Winslet
Honora Parker - Sarah Peirse
Hilda Hulme - Diana Kent
Henry Hulme - Clive Merrison
Herbert Rieper - Simon O'Connor

More Film

  • Spike Lee

    Spike Lee to Direct Hip-Hop Love Story 'Prince of Cats'

    Spike Lee will direct a big-screen version of the hip-hop love story “Prince of Cats,” based on Ron Wimberly’s graphic novel. Legendary has been developing the project with Janet and Kate Zucker of Zucker Productions. Lee, who won the Academy Award for adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman,” will also re-write the “Prince of Cats” script with [...]

  • DOLEMITE IS MY NAME!, 2019, DOL_Unit_06284.RAF

    'Dolemite is My Name' Writer Larry Karaszewski Recalls 10-Year Journey to Make Rudy Ray Moore Biopic

    “Harriet” writer-director Kasi Lemmons was in a reflective mood at Tuesday night’s “Behind the Scene” event at the Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood, sponsored by the Writers Guild of America West. The biopic, starring Cynthia Erivo as slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman, has been receiving buzz since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s Lemmons’ [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Abrams Artists Agency Signs Writers Guild Deal

    In a major triumph for the Writers Guild of America, the Abrams Artists Agency has signed the WGA’s Code of Conduct, allowing the agency to return to representing WGA members again. Chairman Adam Bold made the announcement Wednesday, saying that the agency wants to put its clients back to work. He also noted WGA West [...]

  • Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis

    Holocaust Experts Debate 'Jojo Rabbit' at Museum of Tolerance Screening

    With its comedic, cartoonish portrayal of Nazis, Taika Waititi’s satirical Hitler youth tale “Jojo Rabbit” has polarized critics and audiences alike. And that division continued to be stirred at Tuesday night’s screening of the film at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, where Liebe Geft, director of the museum, moderated a heated panel discussion [...]

  • Mark Ruffalo stars as "Robert Bilott"

    Film Review: Todd Haynes' 'Dark Waters'

    What does a rabble-rousing, fight-the-power, ripped-from-the-headlines corporate-conspiracy whistleblower drama look like in the Trump era? It looks like Todd Haynes’ “Dark Waters” — which is to say, it looks very dark indeed. And also potent and gripping and necessary. The movie form I’m talking about is one we all know in our bones; you could [...]

  • Jonathan Majors

    'The Last Black Man in San Francisco' Star Jonathan Majors Reflects on His Breakout Year

    Jonathan Majors is on a roll. Not only did the 30-year-old actor recently earn a Gotham Award nomination for his performance as Montgomery Allen in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” he’s now filming the Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams-produced “Lovecraft Country.” “I’ve done the math,” Majors said. “Eight years of steady acting training [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content