Peter Jackson’s many obsessions includes Hobbits, World Wars and the Fab Four, but his greatest artistic achievement, and one of the best movies to come out of the 90’s, is undoubtedly Heavenly Creatures, a masterful blend of horror, fantasy, and friendship.
It’s a rare and surprising achievement; Jackson had, until now, only made schlocky, gory, hilarious low-budget horror flicks. And while they were absolutely brilliant for what they were, they were definitely not character-driven examinations on human relationships, and especially not one that so poignantly explores the fragile world of two teenage girls. Based on a fascinatingly true murder trial, Heavenly Creatures is Art with a capital A, focusing not on the trial, but instead musing on the girls’ friendship.
There are so many wonderful elements at play in the film, starting with the very first scene that dumps you right into a bloody, shocking chaos of post-violence screaming before rewinding into the sweet past. Jackson (and his co-writer / real-life partner Fran Walsh) don’t moralize or judge as they depict this budding friendship, nor do they try to supply a pat answer to the question “why did the girls do what they did?” Instead, they place you intimately within the secret world that these two girls share, making you, the viewer, a part of their schemes.
This amazing story would never had worked without the right chemistry, and two unknown actors supplied that chemistry in spades- Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. Heavenly Creatures shares a spiritual bond with another 90’s classic, Ghost World, where Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson also play BFF’s against the world, albeit in a totally different form and context. It’s interesting to note that these two beloved teen girl angst classics were both written and directed by men.
But Heavenly Creatures was also directed by a geek, and Jackson manages to blend his love of fantasy so artfully into the story that no poetic descriptions on paper will do it justice. He swoops you up and in, and before you know it you’re celebrating this obsessive, beautiful, horrific and sexual teenage friendship as well. Jackson would go on to make bigger, more famous films, but he has yet to make anything this artful or wonderful again.
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