Heavenly Creatures

Review by Gary Couzens

In 1953 New Zealand, plain Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) meets in school the beautiful, patrician English Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet). The two girls develop an intense friendship, creating an imaginative world of their own. In 1954 they murder Pauline's mother. A true story.

Heavenly Creatures could have been movie-of-the-week material, but in the hands of director Peter Jackson and writer Frances Walsh it’s much more than that. The opening scene sets the tone: a dull academy-ratio travelogue (not dissimilar to the National Anthem footage that opened Braindead) about Christchurch, NZ, drones on while a noise builds up on the soundtrack. Then the scene cuts abruptly to the full Scope ratio, as Pauline and Juliet, their white dresses splattered in blood, run screaming out of the woods.

If Heavenly Creatures is a departure from Jackson’s early work in terms of subject matter (and, the disturbing murder apart, lack of gore), it’s recognisably from the same man in its bravura style. This may be too much for some viewers. It’s true that the film does occasionally go over the top – such as a scene where the two girls are chased by a black and white Orson Wells as The Third Man’s Harry Lime – but most of the time Jackson is impressively in control. He uses the whole cinematic bag of tricks: computer animation, make-up effects, even caricature acting in some supporting parts. (Continuity error fans should note the scenes where Pauline writes in her diary on New Year’s Day 1953 and 1954 – they can’t both be Thursdays.)

All in all, Heavenly Creatures is a first rate film that should (and with a prize at the Venice festival, already has) get Jackson a wider audience. What that audience will think of Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles or Braindead remains to be seen…

This review was originally published in the January/February 1995 issue of the BFS Newsletter (Vol. 19, No. 1).