It’s hard to imagine Peter Jackson before the Lord of the Rings films, but the guy did have quite the career in his native New Zealand. Back when his work was just starting to be known, he garnered a reputation for being one of the premier directors of the “splatter film”, which is pretty much what it sounds like. He might’ve gone on to keep this typecasting for quite some time, were it not for Heavenly Creatures. This film single-handedly shattered Jackson’s gory reputation, rebuilding it into one of high critical esteem and praise, and launched him upwards enough to where he would eventually be able to helm the LOTR trilogy. Is the film itself good enough to be worth all it did for Jackson’s career? Yes; yes it is.
The film tells the true story of the Parker-Hulme murder case, where two teenage girls, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, met and became virtually inseparable, so much so that at the point where their parents decide enough is enough with the girls’ friendship, they murder Pauline’s mother to, in the words of Pauline’s diary which provides an excellently used narrative device in the film, “remove the obstacle” to their happiness together. It’s not just Pauline and Juliet’s friendship that takes center stage here; the two girls largely bond through a fictional land they mutually create called Borovnia, which they hope to turn into a novel and eventually have get made into a Hollywood film. That they would get their film, albeit outside of Hollywood, is a touch of morose happenstance. The film makes its story that much more effective by taking place almost entirely from the point of view of the girls, living in their fantasy version of reality. If the real life counterparts to these characters really were as delusional as they are presented in the film, I’m honestly surprised the jury didn’t accept the insanity plea later entered at their trial. Jackson cast two then-unknown actresses to play the main girls; Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet, both of whom would go on to have quite successful careers, and who play their parts in this picture to absolute perfection and dedication. But the film, in addition to the two leads, wouldn’t have been half of what it is without Jackson’s direction; his experience in the lower-budget splatterfests lends him an incredibly ambulatory use of the camera here, taking risks with his shots that other directors are too timid to try, and that pay off handsomely, and the film is cut together extremely well, and doesn’t overstay its welcome in the slightest.
I went into this expecting an average picture of a real life account, and came out wholeheartedly singing its praises, totally surprised at how effective and well-made the film really was. This to me, at first, seemed like it had merely made the list as another odd example of having one major work of a director, followed by another lesser work of their career, to more fully represent them; a tactic that I could name a very large handful of directors on the list for. Not anymore; this is here because it is solid, entertaining, and a damn good film all around. It won’t be for everyone, but quite honestly, I’m still a little high on the film to the point that I’m having a hard time coming up with a genre or group of moviegoers who wouldn’t find some form of enjoyment out of this one; it’s that good. It’s reserved enough that it doesn’t scream “must see”, but at the same time, you should really see this one at some point in your life.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10