BY AMBER KELLY-ANDERSON
WHAT it’s about: While he shall always be known as the Lord of the Rings, once upon a time Peter Jackson brought his deftness for infusing fantasy into compelling filmmaking to this real-life inspired tale of two New Zealand teen girls who bond over their love of fantastical stories until the threat of separation pushes them to plot and execute a murder.
WHO’s in it: Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Sara Pierse, and Diana Kent
WHEN it came out: 1994
HOW come you haven’t heard of (or just seen) it: Jackson’s name is synonymous with hobbits (and that side project about a giant gorilla). Heavenly Creatures, although a stellar film in its own right, is more famous for the launching vehicle for Winslet and Jackson (despite it being his fifth directorial effort).
WHY you need to watch it–immediately!
- Two imaginative and murderous girls could have easily been the stuff of a Lifetime made for TV movie; instead, the performances, directing, and screenplay showcase the strengths of the cast and filmmaker, taking the audience into the emotional core of the friendship between Pauline (Lynskey) and Juliet (Winslet). Jackson is sensitive not to lay judgment or sensationalism on the complex themes, instead giving them the gravity they deserve.
- Some of the greatest strengths of Jackson’s work with The Lord of the Rings are foreshadowed in Heavenly Creatures. He and collaborator Fran Walsh utilize existing material (in this case Pauline’s actual diary entries) to create an engaging narrative. Like Sam and Frodo, Pauline and Juliet’s friendship is the core of the narrative. Rather than dismissing the dream world of the girls, Jackson showcases how real imagination can be with his captivating aesthetic, tapping into the same love of fantasy that would win him fans around the world.
- Kate Winslet’s Juliet also foreshadows her trademark characterization—smart, articulate, charismatic, and passionate. The young murderess shows glimmers of Marianne, Rose, Iris, Clementine, Hanna, April—those Winslet characters who have made her one of the great actresses of her generation.
- Melanie Lynskey as Pauline has a less dynamic character to tackle, but her portrayal as a shy, wistful girl is not any less remarkable. Her resume since may not be as impressive as Winslet’s, but her steady, solid work in films like The Informant!, Away We Go, Up in the Air, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and most recently Hello I Must Be Going prove her debut in Heavenly Creatures is no fluke.
- Most women can recall a time when you believed that no one understood you, especially your mother. A time when your emotions and dreams were too big for the small life around you. Only your best friend truly saw who you were. Facing life without that friend? Almost unbearable. Would you have committed murder? Hopefully not. But most teenage girls (and women) can identify with the impulse.
Amber Kelly-Anderson is a Texas-based writer and literature professor harbouring a long-standing infatuation with film. Her lifelong missions are to Save Ferris and voice a Pixar character. Read more of Amber’s posts.