Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Before Kate Winslet did Titanic and Peter Jackson tackled the Lord of the Rings trilogy, they worked together in 1994 on Heavenly Creatures, a beautiful and disturbing tale of teen obsession, madness, and murder. The fact that this is based on an actual crime is even more disturbing.

In a girls' school in 1950s New Zealand, Pauline Parker (Malanie Lynskey) is a loner with messed-up hair and an air of depression and anger. When the sprightly newcomer Juliet (Kate Winslet) enters the school and takes an interest in Pauline, the two become fast friends. To Pauline, Juliet has everything she doesn't: beauty, a cultured family (as opposed to Pauline's working-class folks), exuberance and travels. And for Juliet, Pauline provides a steadfast companion and a buffer against Juliet's devastating fears of being left alone.

As the two girls spend time together, they develop a fantasy kingdom: first just a name and brief history, but soon a long genealogy of the royal family, sculpted dolls of the major characters, and they even begin referring to each other as the prince and princess of this made-up land. (Pauline calls her boyfriend by the fictional prince's name because "it sounds nicer.") Pauline and Juliet seem to share their delusion in this world, as they envision the same sights and dance and interact with human-sized clay figures living in this world -- and killing the people who anger the girls in the real world. The girls begin shutting out everything except each other, joined in even more fantasies (they'll go to Hollywood and become instant stars and celebrities) -- and a very dangerous plan to make their fantasies real.

Peter Jackson directs the two young, gifted actresses very well here, as their behavior becomes increasing manic to us and giddy to each other. Watching Pauline and Juliet, one can almost feel the drives that can lead to the school violence that occurs all too frequently. And the fantasy sequences are bright, colorful, and magical -- a sparkling contrast to what the two girls see in their own lives. Heavenly Creatures is an unsettling film, but a great one -- and it showcases the early talents of a great actress and director.

Overall Grade: A

Reviewed by James Lynch

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