Heavenly Creatures (1994)
August 9, 2022 8:48 PM - Subscribe

Wealthy and precocious teenager Juliet (Kate Winslet) transfers from England to Christchurch, New Zealand, with her family, and forms a bond with the quiet, brooding Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) through their shared love of handsome big screen tenor Mario Lanza and games of make believe. But when their parents begin to suspect that their increasingly intense friendship is becoming unhealthy, the girls decide to run away to America, hatching a dark plan for those who threaten to keep them apart.

Directed by Peter Jackson. Written by Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson. Based on the notorious 1954 Parker–Hulme murder case in Christchurch, New Zealand. Juliet Hulme would later take the name Anne Perry and become a bestselling mystery writer.

Rated 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Not currently available via streaming services or digital rental, but thankfully uploaded to the Internet Archive.
posted by DirtyOldTown (11 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I saw this when it was new and once or twice since, and I thought it was just fantastically good. Like, in my top ten favorite films ever. But I haven't seen it for at least 20 years now and I don't know what I'd think of it now that I'm older and Peter Jackson has become, you know, Peter Jackson. Maybe I'd just see the seeds of all the stuff I don't like in his blockbusters. At least I know there wouldn't be endless battles with a gazillion little CGI orcs running around!

I'm probably one of the few people who's spent the last few decades wishing Jackson would give up all this blockbuster stuff and make more movies like this. HC is certainly an anomaly in his career, totally different from the goofy splatterfests where he got his start and the big blockbusters he's done since.

I had a weird reaction to this movie the first time I saw it. That night, when I was trying to sleep, scenes from this film played over and over in my head until it was kind of driving me nuts. Like, did you ever get a song stuck in your head so badly that it made it hard to sleep? This was like that, but with a whole film. I've never had anything like that happen with a movie since, and I don't know how to explain what was going on. It was like, I loved the movie so much it kind of broke my brain for a night.

I'm amazed to learn the only place to see this is Internet Archive. I mean, it's a Peter Jackson movie starring Kate Winslet, and it got terrific reviews. The Simpsons did a parody of it, FFS! How has it managed to fall into obscurity? I've got to figure that Jackson himself must not be very fond of it, because if he wanted it to be released on blu-ray with all the bells and whistles I'm pretty sure it would be.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:05 PM on August 9, 2022 [8 favorites]

I saw this maybe 20 years ago? and it was fabulous. IIRC the only real critique I had about it is that it conforms to the "lesbians are always evil and/or dead" trope, but since this movie is from such a long time ago, before popular awareness of the trope, I can only fault them for unconscious bias (as opposed to indifference or bigotry or studied ignorance). I need to rewatch before I can say anything substantial about the movie! Thank you for the reminder.
posted by MiraK at 7:17 AM on August 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

oh I LOVE THIS MOVIE. I remember coming out of the theater just shaking. so beautiful and tragic and sick. I have been a fan of Winslet and Lynskey ever since!
posted by supermedusa at 9:00 AM on August 10, 2022

IIRC the only real critique I had about it is that it conforms to the "lesbians are always evil and/or dead" trope

CisHetWhiteManFilter: I don't see them as evil, though? Like, there are heterosexual young couples who do the same thing: get so over-the-top obsessed with each other that it becomes a sort of folie à deux and anyone threatening the relationship is seen as the enemy who must be destroyed. Plus, of course, this is a real story.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:36 AM on August 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

I mean, I guess that picking a young lesbian couple rather than a young het couple to do the story on might be considered part of the trope, as there are examples of the former that could have been used, although I don't know of any examples of the former that had the fantasy element that Jackson seemed to be working off of.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:40 AM on August 10, 2022

I feel like Jackson did this film to prove he could handle a serious character piece in order to land the Lord Of The Rings job. I don't mean that pejoratively - I remember being very impressed with this film on its merits, and even more as evidence of his range after his horror comedies.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 12:51 PM on August 10, 2022

Okay I've just spent my lunch hour and then sneaked an hour from the afternoon between meetings to watch this :) and yeah, Halloween Jack, you're right, they don't come across as evil in the movie. I watched the movie when I was 20 years old, fresh from a lot of fandom discussions on LiveJournal about the Evil and/or Dead Lesbian trope, so I suppose I was looking at everything indiscriminately through that lens.

Anyway, the movie is even better than I remembered. OMG. Who is the actor who plays Pauline's mother because she is absolutely pitch perfect in this role. Such a presence! The imaginary clay kingdom sequences are genuinely astonishing to me, they were so effective in setting the tone and communicating the peculiar innocence of the girls. The script is also a thing of beauty, because it seems like none of the "Hollywood Story Beats" in the movie were invented? All of it is there in the true story, in real life, and even according to the real life women whose youthful friendship is portrayed in the movie, there is not all that much creative license taken by Jackson and Walsh in the story. (The women say their friendship wasn't sexual at all but the movie says it was.) So I think there is real skill at work here int he way the real life story was told in a snappy three-act-structure and superb character development for the entire cast, complete with twists and Chekhov's guns and all the satisfying accoutrements of fiction.

For example. The scenes where one of the lodgers at the Reiper house is caught in bed with a 14 yr old Pauline, ooof! Her oblivious chatter as he's feeling up all over her makes the scene so hard to watch. Pauline's oblivious chatter in the bed scene morphs into Pauline's oblivious glower in the scenes where her parents react to what happened. It's when she starts hating her mother, this is where the seeds of murder are first sown. A tragedy plays out over simple dinner table conversations and everyday moments of an overworked mom being snippy with her teenage daughter for taking too long in the bath. There's such a devastating ring of truth to it, I couldn't bear it.

Lynskey's performance was absolutely flawless throughout. Winslet's was interesting... At first I found it a bit off-putting, over-eager, maybe over-acted, maybe a young performer overdoing it in her first big role. Then there was a certain moment in the movie when I suddenly caught the precise vibe she was going for with her over-the-top enthusiasm schtick. It's the moment when she's back from convalescing - a microscene of maybe half a second when she runs up the stairs saying something in an exasperated tone - and somehow that little moment made her whole performance settle for me. Now I think she's a freaking child-genius because the pitch and delivery of her performance was obviously deliberate. The latter half of the movie bears me out. She's not overacting at all, because she's fully capable of reining it all in in other scenes, and, what's much harder, selling over-eager in a completely different way in other scenes. GENIUS. This is one talented young woman.
posted by MiraK at 1:56 PM on August 10, 2022 [4 favorites]

>I mean, it's a Peter Jackson movie starring Kate Winslet, and it got terrific reviews. The Simpsons did a parody of it, FFS! How has it managed to fall into obscurity?

I might have a guess about this. Back in 1994 after this movie was released, people tracked down the real Juliet and the real Pauline. The real Pauline gave few interviews and chose to be laconic, boring, and "please go away and stop asking me about what it feels like to do the worst thing a child could ever do." (I am paraphrasing.)

The real Juliet, it turned out, was now living in England and was a modestly successful writer of historical mystery fiction under a pen name (Anne Perry). And she didn't have any compunctions about giving interviews saying how much harassment she had been facing since the movie came out, that one of her publishing contracts was in limbo because she had been unmasked, and how cruel and irresponsible it was of Peter Jackson to make a movie about her while she was still alive.

So perhaps this is one of the reasons Peter Jackson and Kate Winslet have allowed this movie to fall into obscurity? IDK what sort of person Peter Jackson is but I can see Kate Winslet having principles about this.
posted by MiraK at 2:05 PM on August 10, 2022 [6 favorites]

Jackson still hasn't released his debut Bad Taste on bluray, despite the cries of fans. I suspect he just doesn't want to spend days staring at his old work. He kinda tried to merge the artful sensibility shown here with his blockbuster-level status by doing The Lovely Bones, but that didn't work out as well.

I wish Fran Walsh got more credit for her work in her partners films, this movie has her fingerprints all over it. But she deliberately avoids the limelight, so all the credit lands on Jackson.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 1:13 AM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

It's no Dead Alive, but does still hold up.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 12:24 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

I rewatched this recently and it felt like a film about how the love you have for your first best friend in adolescence is a fiery, fearsome thing, far beyond anything as simple as romance, let alone friendship.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:24 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

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