Lisa Aschan’s directorial debut is a delicately intriguing affair that explores the emerging sexual awakening in young females and the complex relationships that form as a result of this. The story centres around 14 year old Emma (played by Mathilda Paradeiser), the new girl at an equestrian vaulting club (think gymnastics on horses) and her ambiguous relationship with the star vaulter, the beautiful and confident Cassandra (Linda Molin). Emma likes to be in control, quickly evidenced by the training of her dog with a clicker, and as Cassandra offers to help Emma develop her vaulting skills we see a strange friendship form where Emma allows Cassandra to take control, but for how long? Cassandra pushes Emma to the limits, literally pushing her from a high diving board at one point, testing their friendship. The girls flirt with older males and explore their own sexuality. Paralleled with this is the focus on Emma’s 10 year old sister Sara (Isabella Lindquist) who is also awakening sexually, the catalyst being a comment at the local swimming pool that she should be wearing a bikini top. Sara flirts with her older cousin and questions why he is not in love with her.
Cited as a modern western She Monkeys certainly has plenty of ‘duels’ and even knowingly has actual tumbleweed enter the neutral world that is established. The characters and themes explored are interesting but the build-up to the final ‘duel’ is lacking, resulting in a rather flat finale. Emma’s stoic nature is perfectly played out by Paradeiser who was a flawless casting choice, her unusual features mesmerising and greatly contrasting with the classical beauty of Molin. Perhaps the greatest star of the film is young Isabella Lindquist who achieves a difficult mix of believable childlike innocence and questioning sexuality, her character also adding an element of humour to the film which juxtaposes with the actions of Emma and Cassandra that demonstrate the cruel streaks within the older girls.
She Monkeys is by no means revelatory but it is a pleasant perusal into the transformative stages of young girls. It is a visual film, saying very little explicitly, allowing the audience to steadily dissect what they are seeing on screen, much like a Yorgos Lanthimos film but minus the dark trajectory his films choose. At a mere 83 minutes the film doesn’t drag and feels a suitable length. Carefully considered shot compositions dominate and facial expressions speak much louder than words in this film.
The sizzling emotions boiling under the surface are what drive the characters in She Monkeys and these adolescent themes are something we can all relate to in some way. The film is quietly compelling yet unfortunately not compelling or memorable enough. The two main characters of Emma and Cassandra are not quite likeable enough to be at the centre of the film and Sara really steals the limelight from these main protagonists. However, this remains an enjoyable film to watch and is a satisfying slice of coming-of-age drama with a hint of uncertain menace for good measure.
She Monkeys is in cinemas from 18th May 2012.
Director: Lisa Aschan
Writers: Lisa Aschan, Josefine Adolfsson
Stars: Mathilda Paradeiser, Linda Molin and Isabella Lindquist
Runtime: 83 mins