Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 6:12 pm 
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A 'cycle of abuse' story made in Montreal

This is an awful movie, by which I don't mean it's terrible. It shows ability, certainly in the visuals - the filmmakers are photographers by trade. It's just extremely unpleasant, virtually excruciating, to watch. To sit through it you really should be locked into a room the way the poor sixteen-year-old Eva (Julia Sarah Stone) is locked in by Laura Drake (Evan Rachel Wood, another triple name). Laura is emotionally sick thirty-year-old. She cleans houses and does bookkeeping for her creepy father William (Denis O'Hare). These are the people we are stuck with for 100 minutes. The movie is the directorial debut of the brothers, Carlos and Jason Sanchez, of Montreal. This is a Canadian picture, though, as some Canadian critics have noted with displeasure, it's one that yet again uses Montreal to stand for some unspecified, generic, monolingual city instead of culturally rich Montreal.

Laura was abused, and here we see how "the cycle of abuse" is repeated. Unfortunately, when people are hurt, they often react by later hurting others. Laura is also desperately in need of affection and knows no healthy way of finding it. This we see in the, typically, very unpleasant opening scene, a scene so repellent it's enough to cause walkouts. In this opener, Laura has an anonymous male sexual partner enter her room blindfolded for sex, and immediately begins berating him for not having an erection. Under these circumstances, who would? It's no surprise when this encounter, soon, but not soon enough, ends badly.

It's on a housecleaning job that Laura discovers Eva, playing Bach magnificently, but not, we're told, enjoying it. We are led to believe that Eva's mother (Maxim Roy) forces Eva to do the Bach thing, but never gives her any encouragement. This somehow seems unconvincing. How could she play it this well if there were no joy in it for her? But we are shown the scene of a concert in which Eva solos playing Bach, but her mother tells her, "We both know you could have done better." Q.E.D.

This is only part of Eva's unhappiness. She is more immediately disturbed about her mother moving them into the house of a new boyfriend she can't stand. This is when Laura returns to the house and finds Eva crying. They have previously bonded over a joint and a Nirvana poster. Now Laura offers Eva the opportunity to run away, which the unhappy Eva immediately agrees to do.

As soon as Eva is at Laura's, she finds herself a prisoner, and tries to escape. But with a combination of weeping and tenderness and unhealthy emotional smothering that's excruciating to watch, Laura persuades Eva to accept her confinement, foisted upon her with the claim that they must be secret or Laura will go to jail.

I find myself much in agreement with Jon Frolsch of Hollywood Reporter, reviewing the movie in the Discovery section at Toronto, on motivation. However miserable Eva is at the prospect of giving up the house she's grown up in, continuing under her mother's control while living with the disliked boyfriend, it's unlikely she'd give up her music, her education, and her security for a life of dope, alcohol, and hiding with an uncertain future with a furtive, unstable lesbian; the latter part of the relationship clearly doesn't appeal to her. It's also hard to see what would make this mousy, unhappy young girl attractive to the hip, beautiful, tightly wired Laura.

Wood and Stone deliver fully committed performances nonetheless; their weepy, melodramatic scenes together have an ugly fascination, as they seem stuck and we, the viewers, feel stuck. As Laura's father, O'Hare gives a subtle performance that lets the ugly history seep out gradually. The Sanchez brothers show a visual sense and their dp Sara Mishara does good work, though there is too great a fondness for murkiness, even complete darkness. I must also agree with Frolsch's opening statement, that Allure "gives a pulpy lesbian-obsession thriller premise the full art house treatment. Warning: You may miss the pulp." By giving this heavy, borderline unbearable material realistic treatment, when from the outset the viewer wants to either laugh or bolt, the Sanchez brothers ask a lot of us.

The movie has done well with critics, to go by Metacritic, which rates it 70% successful. However, some of the local Canadian reviewers, and others, have been less impressed. (See especially Kate Taylor of the Globe and Mail , or Norman Wilner of Now.) When Angelo Muredda of Cinema Scope calls this "dire," I must concede he's right. But maybe these guys will reset their course and produce something good next time.

Allure (originally presented as A Worthy Companion), 105 mins., debuted at Toronto 10 Sept. 2017; a number of other festivals including Hamburg, Taipei and Palm Springs. Reviewed as part of the Mostly British festival in San Francisco February 2018.

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