Heavenly Creatures

Movie Information

Heavenly Creatures, part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World, will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.
Genre: Fact-Based Drama
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Kate Winslet, Melanie Lynskey, Sarah Peirse, Diana Kent, Clive Merrison
Rated: R

For those who think of Peter Jackson strictly in terms of his epics like the Lord of the Rings films or in terms of his splatter comedies like Dead Alive (1992), his 1994 film Heavenly Creatures may come as a revelation. (It also might serve as a good warm-up for his soon-to-be-released The Lovely Bones, which, the trailer suggests, returns to the style of Heavenly Creatures.) Despite the undeniable merits of Jackson’s other works, Heavenly Creatures strikes me as the best film he has made. Certainly, it’s the most disturbing in its depiction of the real-life drama that culminated in two teenage girls—Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet) and Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey)—brutally murdering one of their mothers in 1950s New Zealand. It’s not so much disturbing because of the murder of Honoria Parker (Sarah Peirse)—though the scene itself is very disturbing—but because of Jackson’s very real depiction of the particular chain of events that lead to this act. And those are disturbing because aspects of the events are relevant to any childhood that involves heightened imagination, fantasy worlds, self-dramatization, intense friendships and parents who “don’t understand”—in other words, just about any childhood.

Jackson’s use of film to convey the story is invariably striking—nearly every choice feels just right. Scenes of bitter humor and even subtle charm end on a note of warning (often a look on Pauline’s face caught at just the right moment). The sense of desperation of two lonely girls who have found each other and are determined not to lose what they’ve found permeates the entire film. (The original, truncated U.S. version of the film was less explicit in its depiction of the girls’ lesbianism—an aspect of the story that Hulme, who is now known as British mystery novelist Anne Perry, denies, but which is clearly referred to in Pauline’s diary.) As filmmaking, Heavenly Creatures is stunning, despite the fact that some of the “morphing” effects look a little quaint today, and Jackson’s use of the sound track is equally masterful.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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3 thoughts on “Heavenly Creatures

  1. Erik Harrison

    I’ve yet to see Braindead, but otherwise this is my favorite Jackson picture, and I say that as an unabashed fan. At this point he has matured hugely as a filmmaker, is working with an excellent cast, but hasn’t fallen into the trap of Too Much that King Kong and the extended version of Return of the King were caught by.

    Tangential: Ken, have you seen Forgotten Silver?

  2. Ken Hanke

    hasn’t fallen into the trap of Too Much that King Kong and the extended version of Return of the King were caught by.

    I’m kind of hoping that The Lovely Bones gets him out of that.

    Tangential: Ken, have you seen Forgotten Silver?

    Yes. It struck me as an amusing footnote.

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