Not rated, 99 min. Directed by Peter Jackson. Starring Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Sarah Peirse, Diana Kent, Clive Merrison, Simon O'Connor.
New Zealand horror comedy specialist Peter Jackson (Meet the Feebles, Dead Alive) stretches his already formidable talents with this new film -- a startling, occasionally brilliant genre-bender that, while nigh impossible to pigeonhole (drama, comedy, fantasy, romance, and horror are all given equal time), remains nonetheless a work of remarkable clarity and vision, as well as one of the most original pictures of this or any other year. Based on a true story, Heavenly Creatures tells the tale of two young schoolgirls: the shy, repressed Pauline (Lynskey) and the loud, flamboyant Juliet (Winslet). The pair instantly bond due to their similarly wild imaginations and mutual history of illness that has kept the both of them at arms' length from their peers (“All the best people get diseases,” says Juliet. “It's terribly romantic!”). As their friendship grows more and more intense, the two girls slowly descend into madness, using their overactive imaginations to escape their mundane surroundings into a mythical place of their own creation. This place is known as “the fourth world,” an alternate reality populated by living clay sculptures, unicorns, and giant butterflies. However, the tone slowly changes from whimsical to deadly serious as parents, priests, and psychiatrists alike begin to conspire against the confused heroines and threaten to separate them, which sets in motion a chain of events that lead to a brutal and tragic climax. This is truly Jackson's coming of age as a director: When he wants to evoke a sense of wonder, Jackson reveals Steven Spielberg to be the calculated manipulator we all feared he would become, and when he builds suspense, he makes Brian DePalma's recent work look like the stuff of bad slasher flicks. The movie is also aided greatly by the two extraordinary performances of the young leads, Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. While Lynskey, as Pauline, can deliver any variety of icy glares that might freeze even Hannibal Lecter's blood, Winslet's turn as Juliet is so rich and lively that it's hard to believe it's her feature film debut. Fueled by witty imagery, wonderful performances, and careful direction, Heavenly Creatures is a must-see for those who like their films a little on the adventurous side. And while many will feel that they are discovering the work of an intriguing new director, die-hard fans may fear that Jackson is “selling out” to a mainstream audience because the picture isn't loaded with severed limbs and spurting arteries -- but, rest assured, this is hardly the case: Heavenly Creatures is the director's most unconventional movie to date -- and is coupled with both a delicate maturity and confidence that makes his evolution as a filmmaker all the more thrilling to observe and lead one to wonder what this unpredictable talent will come up with next.
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