Thursday, July 28, 2011

Classic - Heavenly Creatures

This might be a bit presumptuous of me, but I'm sure when people hear the words "New Zealand film industry", they instantly think of Peter Jackson. And that's okay. The boy has done well for himself, by starting off with cheap gorefests to moving on to the biggest task in the world: making an epic trilogy of adaptions known as Lord of the Rings. Which pretty much everyone has seen. So yeah, it's cool if y'all think of orcs and elves when I say "New Zealand film industry". But you must remember that Sir Peter Jackson has done some films that aren't filled with orcs and elves...the gorefests, the snorefest (The Lovely Bones) and Heavenly Creatures. This was the film that put him on the map for the first time. It was also the film that put Kate Winslet on the map. Yes, Lord of the Rings may have all of it's technical achievements and such, but Heavenly Creatures introduced us to the greatness of two of the biggest people working in film today. And it also gives us a shocking insight into one of the most horrific crimes in New Zealand's history.

The horrific crime in question is one that was in the hands of 15 year old best friends Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, played by Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet respectively. What did these seemingly innocent young girls do? They murdered Pauline's mother. Why? Because that was the only way they felt they could stay together. Instead of focusing on the notorious court case that followed their horrendous crime, this movie focuses on their friendship and the period of time leading up to the big murder. These were girls who had an obsessive friendship, who couldn't bear to be apart and who lived a life in fantasy, also believing that their many stories would be made into huge Hollywood epics. All of this was tracked in Pauline's diary, which became a crucial piece of evidence in the case. Also, it provides most of the narration for the film: none of the diary entries which are spoken of in the film are edited down. Just so this is even more realistic.

I'm ashamed to say that before I watched this film, I had no idea about this murder. Even though I know it's a true story, I really couldn't believe it. Maybe that's because I love my mother so much. Anyway, the one thing I did believe was the way screen-writers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh managed to build up this world of teen angst that was constantly battling with a fantasyland worlds away from reality, while remaining faithful to the material. It's clear that they didn't want Pauline and Juliet to be seen as psychopathic monsters, which I believe they weren't. They were, however, two teenagers who were a little bit misunderstood, but they were so compelled by their own little world that it was difficult for anyone to even begin to understand them. This film also deals with a raft of other 'teenage problems', such as (obviously) hating your parents, sex (now this seems to pop up in every damn teen movie) and that ever-present need to break away from everything. Considering what happens in the end, you expect this to be a cold-blooded movie that never seems to pull away from a huge state of depression. But that only truly comes through in the final act. The first acts are filled with mysterious whimsy and evil parents. It's an interesting mix, but it works.

For a New Zealand film, this is a bloody good one. As I've probably said before, I really dislike the acting that comes out of this country because of our damn accents, but the performances in this film are all brilliant. But you've really got to hand it to Lynskey and Winslet as this was their first feature film, and they did so well. Lynskey had no previous acting experience, so taking the role of Pauline was a huge ask. But she filled the character up with a lot of that adolescent angst (sometimes too much, but I guess the character was a bit of a moper) and genuine frustration with the world. Winslet seemed to get a lot of acclaim back in the day when this was first released. Her performance was good, even though I found her character diabolically annoying at the start. You can definitely see that she was onto something great with that feature debut...and just look at her now.

This is exactly the type of film that I want Peter Jackson to direct more. Sure, he's good with Lord of the Rings and everything, but he does have a good knack for directing 'coming of age' films, with a killer twist. This is a chilling film that New Zealand should be proud of...if they can be.

THE VERDICT: Heavenly Creatures provides a good insight into both a chilling murder and the minds of two slightly misunderstood teenagers, rather than repeating a piece of horrific New Zealand history. And yes, Peter Jackson directed it.

What I hoped for:

What I got:


  1. I should see this one, I've heard so many great things about it.

    Nice review Stevee, it's interesting to have it review from a New Zealander's perspective.

  2. This is an awesome film, and marks a huge leap forward in Jackson's career. As much as I like his earlier edgier stuff (particularly Braindead, that really is something else) this was just a really nice breath of fresh air. Such a good story told so brilliantly - the way fantasy and reality are mixed works superbly.

    As horrific as the crime is, I think it's handled really well here. It really isn't exploitative, just shocking in its brutality. And of course, the acting is excellent.

    Easily one of Jackson's better works, and it is sadly a little overlooked now. Still, nice to see you shedding some light on it Stevee - awesome review!

  3. I have been wanting to watch this again for sooooo long. I was probably about your age when I first saw it. Thanks for writing this great review, and reminding me what a Kiwi classic this film is.

  4. I remember watching this a long time ago but it was more of a on in the background type of an affair!! I really need to sit down and see it now that I am a parent. I truly believe that having children completely changes your view on films.

    A brilliantly written piece again my friend!! And it is good to see you love you mum!!

  5. You know this is one of the very few NZ films I've never actually seen!!! To be honest it is probably the last genuinely good film PJ made. Sure LOTR is great but he had alot of input from many others than just himself. Heavenly Creatures is more just a soley PJ film, and far surpasses the butchery he made of The Lovely Bones!
    Here's one for you youngster!! I saw Bad Taste in a theatre in Lower Hutt way back in 1989!!!!!!!! Great film, but he then went on to make the awful Meet the Feebles...not his finest hour!

  6. Jack - You should definitely watch it, I'm sure you'll enjoy it. It's a brilliant film!

    Liam - This is a damn good Peter Jackson movie! I'm going to catch up on his earlier works soon too.
    I'm glad this wasn't exploitive either. In different hands it would have been.
    It is sadly overlooked. Mind you, it's one of Peter's best works!

    Tyler - Give it another look, and no problem!

    Custard - You should definitely give it another look! And I'm sure everything does change when you're a parent.
    Yes, I do love my mum! She's the best!

    Brent - Haha, that's no problem, considering I just saw it. But you should check it out, it's one of the best NZ films out there.
    Gosh, I wanna see Bad Taste so much! It's on my Fatso queue at the moment. Can't wait until it arrives!

  7. Bad Taste will look extremely dated now, but in its day it was twisted, and very very funny. To put it into perspective in the late 1980's it was the explicit equivilent of the Saw movies.
    I actual have two cousins who star in it too! They had very minor parts but they appear in the infamous 'vomit' scene!!

  8. I loved Heavenly Creatures when I saw it about a year and a half ago now, absolutely loved it! Glad that you had a good time with it, too (even though it is extremely disturbing, and having 'a good time' with the film isn't really the best way to put it...)

    The Lovely Bones, a snorefest? I thought you were on the film's side, Stevee!!


You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


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