Thursday, August 07, 2008


In the period in between his splatter-comedy beginnings and his mega-special effects blockbusters, including the much feted Lord of the Rings trilogy and somewhat overlooked The Frighteners , Kiwi director Peter Jackson made a poignant and haunting film examining two of New Zealand's most notorious murderers. This crime, committed in the 1950s, was significant for the fact that it was two women who did the deed; moreso that they were both under 17 at the time. The victim was Pauline's Mom. No I'm not spoiling the film for those of you out there, this is made reasonable clear in a chilling early scene with the terrified girls running blood -soaked through the woods, a scene which Jackson has yet to top in his career to date. Needless to say, the trial of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hume was big news in its day.

Rather than recreate the trial and the hubbub for the film, Jackson and co-writer Fran Walsh instead opt to tell the story of the budding friendship of Parker and Hume while in school in Christchurch gleaned through passages the real Pauline Parker's diary, which serve as the voice-over narration in the film. The film focuses on the creative and positive energy of the girls imagination, which results their creation of a fantasy world, which is constructed and inhabited through the birth of the Weta-Digital effects house, clearly one reason why Jackson was entrusted with umpteen millions of dollars to later create J.R.R. Tolkien's world on film. Despite containing some elements of a fantasy film, Heavenly Creatures is a rather dark look at how children's worlds are viewed (and manipulated) by society and parents, and how a deep and intimate friendship can turn sour from the anxieties and fears imprinted there-on.

The confident 'ring-leader' Juliet Hume was notably Kate Winslet's feature debut and is a compelling and bold performance which not surprisingly launched a celebrated and diverse career. While not going on to as great of heights as her co-star, the shy but perhaps stronger Pauline Parker, is played with equal conviction by Melanie Lynskey.

Rich with period detail (including a scene involving Orson Welles and the sewer chase from 1949's The Third Man is stunning stuff), compelling visuals and intimate storytelling, Heavenly Creatures is an encaptivating piece of cinema. I'd love to see Peter Jackson drop with the big blockbusters (that being said, I'm a big fan of his version of King Kong as well) and return to this type of intimate filmmaking, which may just be the case with his next film, The Lovely Bones.