I had actually never seen Peter Jackson’s earlier feature film Heavenly Creatures before, and so I had no idea how much of a treat it would be to see it on the big screen. The digitally remastered classic is beautiful and mesmerising and certainly showcases Kate Winslet’s beauty and talent, Juliet Hulme being her first role in a feature film.
Based on the true story of the notorious 1954 Parker-Hulme murder case, Heavenly Creatures is predominantly from the point of view of Pauline Parker (played outstandingly by Melanie Lynskey), a teenage girl who develops an obsessive friendship with new girl in town Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet). Their relationship boarders on the unhealthy, full of fantasies that they become lost in, and their parents decide the girls need to be separated. The girls are obviously outraged by the decision and plot to take revenge.
The film opens with vintage footage of Chrustchurch, New Zealand, an idyllic town that seems peaceful and safe. The footage is immediately juxtaposed with the girls screaming and running, covered in blood contrasted with a black and white nostalgic scene of the girls with parents. It is a striking opening scene, the horrific screams amplified on the big screen and the juxtaposition of the vintage footage with the blood and screaming is unsettling. Immediately we know this is no ordinary film and no ordinary story.
The camera follows the feet and legs of a teenager who we soon learn is 14 year old Pauline who is from a working class family. She is paired in an art class with new girl Juliet, a beautiful, clever, charismatic rich girl from England who Pauline quickly starts to adore. We see how the girls become best of friends and begin to write a novel together, their imaginations creating fantastical scenarios which Jackson recreates for us. Clay figures are brought to life and become life size, interacting with the girls as they create scenarios. We as the audience get swept away in the ever growing friendship and we are immersed in the girl’s world.
The two central performances are riveting and capture the true essence of being a teenage girl and the bonds that can develop. There are sexual undertones throughout which culminate in a scene of kissing and pretending to make love as the fictional historical characters they create, but the innocence of the friendship is still retained and it is never depicted in a sordid manner.
Jackson’s film is creative and beautiful. The use of colour is great and adds to the fantasy element of the film. As with Lynne Ramsey’s recent We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), which was also shown at CFF, Jackson chooses to use a lot of red throughout, blood, paint and wool are all a bright red that stands out from the almost muted turquoise palette of the 1950s. Some scenes have a pink tint to them, a literal rose-tint, while others are a colder pale turquoise. The use of colour depicts the emotions of the girls and is a beautiful addition to the great camerawork. There are extreme close ups of people’s faces which is slightly uncomfortable but this dissection also represents the dissecting that the girls’ relationship goes under from their parents and from us the audience.
The build up to the actual murder is tense even though you know what is going to happen and the actual act is brutal and shocking. Heavenly Creatures perfectly portrays the fantasy and imagination of these two girls who we get to know and like, which makes the end even more appalling and leaves you feeling very strange, as if you too have committed the act. I became completely engrossed in the world created by Peter Jackson and the performances by Lynskey and Winslet are spellbinding. This is a truly magnificent film and my only reason for not giving it 10/10 is due to the heinous crime they commit. A remarkable film, from a visual point of view and also a fascinating story, which I will definitely be buying to watch again and again.
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson
Cast: Kate Winslet, Melanie Lynskey, Sarah Peirce
Runtime: 99 mins
Country: New Zealand and Germany