DIRECTOR: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Jane is a photographer who is presently in a failing marriage. Jane and her husband are playing nice for the sake of their daughter. While rushing to a job interview, Jane is involved in a horrible car accident where she suffers memory loss. Going through her photos, she begins to notice strange clues that may indicate she was responsible for the murders of a family she didn't know she had. Is it real or is it all in her head?
I remember hearing the word of mouth on Lavender back in April of last year when the film debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. After that, it pretty much disappeared off of my radar. Now, nearly a year later and the movie has seen the light of day. I finally got around to giving this one a watch. I went into this movie completely blind. I hadn't seen a trailer, clips or even the poster until I got a screener of the film. All I knew of Lavender going in was that Australian actress Abbie Cornish was our lead in the movie which is always a big positive in my eyes.
The first thing I noticed while watching Lavender was that it was visually gorgeous. I can't fault this on a visual or cinematography level. The movie begins with a stunning freeze framed tracking shot of a bloody crime scene. Everything feels like a photo. A camera delicately moves through the front yard, up past police officers as they appear frozen in time. It weaves around this beautiful old farmhouse where we are witness to the aftermath of a horrific murder of a family. The camera moves around the house, and we see the grisly event. It really is a stunning start to the film.
The visual flair doesn't stop with that opening scene either. I really found that I was connected more to the camera work and visual aesthetics within the film than I was with the actual mystery at the heart of Lavender. We have lots of these beautiful open landscape shots, we have a nice little car crash sequence that is done entirely in slow motion that I thought added a lot of visual flair to the film, and the ending which also reveals the twist in freeze frame and slo-mo. I think this is visual storytelling more than an engaging story.
I think Lavender is pretty heavy on character development. We are immediately in the know that there is trouble within our two central characters marriage. I actually liked that the movie dealt with a married couple who were going through a pretty big rough patch, but instead of trying to destroy each other, they chose to focus on their daughter and make it work. You could see cracks in their foundations, but these two remained civil, lived and slept together in the same bed and still put on a brave face when they'd greet their child. I liked these two characters.
My most significant issues with Lavender was that I found myself pretty bored with the story. It took me three attempts to actually finish the movie. I fell asleep twice over two nights. I almost gave up on the film and wasn't going to review it because I thought that falling asleep twice was a sign that I should put this movie to bed and move on to the next film. I decided to give it one more shot and take a chance, and I actually got through it. The pacing of the film really was a struggle to get through. Maybe after two attempts, I just wasn't in the frame of mind at this point to really give it a positive review.
Another problem that I found with Lavender was the whole psychological-memory-loss mystery that plays out. I wouldn't call this entirely predictable, but for most of the story, you kind of have a fairly good idea where this story is heading and who is responsible for the murders. The one element that did work for me was that rather heartbreaking reveal of who a particular character turns out to be in the end. It does come full-circle in a rather sad way, and I think that aspect of the mystery worked but the rest of it was sort of bland.
Is Lavender scary? No. I didn't find the film creepy or scary, but in all honesty, I think this was going for more of a tonal vibe than outright jump scares. The movie deals with psychological demons and the results of that. At times the film also tries to add little supernatural looking touches which kind of throws off the tone of the breakdown that Abbie Cornish is having. Having hands coming from behind her out of the closet or hands grabbing her ankles from under the bed feels a little off when this film feels pretty grounded in reality.
I think the element that gave this film a sense of dread was the score. Sarah Neufeld from Arcade Fire and Colin Stetson have conjured up a somewhat haunting and pretty jarring score. Whenever the movie started to ramp up towards the darker moments in the film, the score is pretty eerie. I found myself noticing the score quite a bit on the third watch. I think it will creep people out who are easily terrified. I think the score will elevate the more suspenseful scenes for those who aren't usually big on thrillers or horror films.
Lastly, the acting is pretty solid for the most part. I'm a massive fan of Abbie Cornish. If you're only aware of her in more Hollywood related roles, I highly recommend you track down the Australian films Candy and Somersault. Her two best performances to date. She is astounding in both those movies. They will also destroy you emotionally. Here I was a little confused. I kept hearing her accent change and wasn't sure what to think of it. I don't know if that was intentional? The rest of the cast are all decent, though. Not bad performances from the cast.
DEATH TOLL: 3
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A dead body covered in blood is covered with a sheet.
- A little girl is seen covered in blood.
- A woman is hit in the head with a hammer.
- Someone falls down the stair and cracks their skull open.
- Someone is smacked in the head with a shovel.
Lavender is a movie that I think has its moments. As a gorgeous looking small town tale about family, that element worked for me. As a murder mystery, I found the rest of it pretty bland. I was more enthralled with the visuals of the film than I was with the mystery at the heart of the film. It has an excellent score, some fantastic camera work, and a mostly solid cast. The film lacks any real scares or suspense, and I found the mystery to be somewhat predictable. I still think it's worth a once off watch if you have nothing better to see on a rainy day.