Stepping from the gore soaked ruins of the early Jackson pantheon we find ourselves at a very different place in 1994, a place in which the director set his sights on a story rooted in the controlled hysteria of adolescence and marked Jackson’s maturation as a masterful storyteller. It would prove Jackson’s ‘breakthrough’ film whatever such terms mean to people, and it showed that beyond the wit, invention and playful nature of Bad Taste and Braindead this was a director capable of powerful dramatic cinema and though it remains something of a curio in the filmography Heavenly Creatures retains its power and its charm to this day.
The film tells the terrible true story of the 1954 Parker-Hulme case (which I won’t go into here if you’ve not seen the film, something I hope I can convince you to do) but Heavenly Creatures is Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh at their most confident and the love song between the two teenage girls (Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey in their respective screen debuts) is beautifully sung with heartfelt empathy of the overwhelming emotional ties which cross and tighten as their last days of childhood approach.
As Winslet’s prim and fiercely confident Juliet crashes into the sullen world of Pauline Parker each finds in the other an outlet for their shared isolation and teenage angst. Pressure from their parents, who initially encourage the new found friendship, intensifies and begins to consume the girls who want nothing more than to spend time in each other’s company. To this end, and by way of an escape, they create their own world in which they walk with the heroes of their lives, where they are cut off from their parents and their school’s concern for the health of their relationship (health, in all contexts, plays a huge part in the film) and this is the point at which their world changes.
The fledgling WETA workshop made the girls’ fantasy come alive with visual flourishes that are breathtaking even today as the clay figures they make come to life as the fantastic world of Borovnia opens up before them and, just as the real world starts to close in on them, provides the perfect idyll, their vibrant secret garden to escape into. It is the all consuming nature of this world which gives rise to the story’s final act in which their desperation at the threat of a permanent parting results in the girls hatching a plan in their safe, controlled (and unreal) state which is then carried out as a shocking act in the real world.
We are spellbound by the two and their doomed relationship. It remains the most honest of Jackson’s films. Seemingly free from the exuberant visceral gorefests of the early years and before fantastical ghosthunts and monster movies took over we have the clearest example fof the director finding his feet in our world and the film is my favourite of his. His adaptation of The Lovely Bones covered some of the same ground but had none of the passion or the emotional punch and went way over the top with its CGI afterlife (the ‘other’ world to match the girl’s Borovnia).
The path we are led down here is a rich and complex one, with obsession and desire creating an altered reality which we follow Jackson into and we can all recognise the flights of fancy or sudden overwhelming passions of our younger selves. Jackson and Walsh tap into this shared experience with precision and Lynskey and Winslet are perfectly cast here. With this new Blu-ray I was able to revisit the film knowing that the promise he showed with this film gave way to some outstanding productions but which still haven’t matched the emotion and passion shown here.
The review disc I received had none of the extras you’ll find on the retail disc and while I can leave the trailer and the picture gallery it would have been nice to have seen the retrospective documentary, not least because the film appears to have been forgotten by many and to hear Kim Newman, Rosie Fletcher and Alan Jones talk it up would be something. The doc apparently runs for almost half an hour so if you’re looking for another reason to bag this blu then, while it’s not swimming in extras (and there’s still no commentary), this is as good a reason as any.