After losing her memory, a woman begins to see unexplained things after her psychiatrist suggests she visit her childhood home.
March 3rd, 2017
Here comes the reviewer who sounds like a damned broken record. But folks, this issue seems to be a continuous problem in films and horror films particularly. Of course, I’m making note of the horror side of things, since this is the only genre I review.
Your project has some money behind it. You’ve cast good actors. You’ve got a solid understanding of lighting, editing and picture composition. As a filmmaker, you’ve got most of the technical things down. Your picture looks good.
But your story is nowhere near polished. Your ideas are wholly unoriginal and to make it through such an overused (and under-inspired) ghost story situation – well, your audience is gonna have to trudge through the mess and the boredom, because you didn’t come up with something even slightly new.
With the now hundreds of films I’ve reviewed for the good folks of Horror Freak News, I have lost count of how many pieces could have succeeded had they created a better story, better characters and given the characters better dialogue. You’ve got the money and resources to make it happen, but you failed to make your film truly live.
And the broken record comes into play as I discuss the forthcoming release – Lavender.
Jane (Abbie Cornish) and her husband Alan (Diego Klattenhoff of Pacific Rim and The Blacklist) have a young daughter named Alice (Lola Flanery). There’s some unexplained tension between the couple, but they’re attempting to work things out. Jane is a photographer and her favorite things to capture are abandoned farmhouses in the countryside. Jane’s always been a bit forgetful, so when she finds an interesting (and somewhat familiar) home, long dormant memories begin to re-materialize. Through a car accident, an old injury is discovered, and Jane comes to find out that this familiar house is hers. Her and her family will reconnect with her Uncle Patrick (Dermot Mulroney) and spend some time in the old homestead, in an attempt to fill in more of her blank memories. Naturally, the house has some devastating secrets which must be revealed.
The opening moments of the film are very promising. In the aftermath of a violent crime (the basis for the film’s story) we are shown the devastation through some sort of complicated mannequin challenge, as the camera passes through several frozen vignettes, eventually ending on a young Jane holding a straight razor. Unexpectedly, Jane looks up to the camera – providing the only movement in the scene. It’s quite effective and again, promising. But then the film takes the usual turns and takes a direct route to Cliché-Ville.
And it’s a bummer that the film is so cookie-cutter, since the performances are mostly strong. Abbie Cornish (most well known for Sucker Punch and Limitless) does a fine job of drawing us in and making us willing to join Jane on her journey of self-discovery. She hits all of the right emotions and so we will be sympathetic. I feel she could have gone the extra mile in bringing out Jane’s absolute confusion in these trying and off-putting scenarios, but that could have been a shortcoming of the direction.
Diego Klattenhoff is a solid actor, but his character is underdrawn. Perhaps it’s shitty of me to point this out (since so much of the time, female characters are underdrawn and created only to be there to inform the male characters), but either way – it’s lazy writing. I’ve found that even if someone is not the central focus of a story, they still need to live and breathe – regardless of sex. Klattenhoff shows proper concern as a father and spouse as Alan, but we know nothing of this character. Shouldn’t supporting characters be there to enrich the journey of the hero/heroine? If they’re 2-dimensional, it does no one any good. Rant over. Suffice to say that Klattenhoff does an admirable job with very little in the way of writing, to support him.
As for the supporting cast, Justin Long as Jane’s psychiatrist (he’s the one who initially suggests she return to the family home to stir up some demons) and Dermot Mulroney as Uncle Patrick – they’re both fine. Not really any standout moments or overall performances, but these dudes have been around the block and you know you can count on them to bring professionalism and realism to any role they tackle.
I had a big problem with the visuals of Jane and company first entering the old house. 25 years have passed, but the place is pretty spic-n-span. There are no sheets covering the furniture, but it’s miraculously move-in ready. Perhaps I missed some detail about Uncle Patrick getting the place ready, but as is – it’s a weirdly distracting detail. Hey, I notice things like this!
I was impressed with the music score from Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson. It’s one which is a perfect balance. It never distracts, only adds without ever attracting too much attention to itself. And one particular recycled cue throughout is quite chilling. The music is an easy highlight of the film.
There were no real scares. And while shortcomings of that ilk are sometimes acceptable – if the film is suspenseful or offers white-knuckle tension – Lavender has neither. It never quite gets your anticipation or the fear centers of your brain to run on all cylinders. And even horror films which lean more into supernatural drama territory, can and should still thrill us and bring us to the edge of our seats.
I found the central conceit of why this family had so much drama and baggage – a tired and oft-played card. I won’t spoil it by blurting it out, but internal family drama (including an uncle and his young niece – you catching my drift here?) just doesn’t offer up much new territory.
I think that when a film is strong on so many other levels (performance, suspense) that you can gloss over and potentially forgive other shortcomings. If you’re so jazzed by how it makes you feel, then who cares if this or that might have been a tired cliché? But with Lavender, there is never that complete engagement, so audience members (or critics) have plenty of opportunity to nitpick the details. I was never swept up, so let’s pull it apart. And if we were never swept up, that’s a problem too.
The film looks darn good, with solid editing (other than that glaring lack of tension) and the Canadian countryside is beautifully captured, with lovely placement of the subjects in frame. Again – it looks so nice. But in the end, with not enough originality and being just on the cusp of complete audience engagement, the film is not and will not be memorable.
Lavender is scheduled for a limited theatrical release as well as release on VOD outlets on March 3rd.