Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Movie Review: Allure

Allure *** / *****
Directed by: Carlos Sanchez and Jason Sanchez.
Written by: Carlos Sanchez and Jason Sanchez.
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood (Laura Drake), Julia Sarah Stone (Eva), Denis O'Hare (William Drake), Maxim Roy (Nancy), Joe Cobden (Benjamin).
Allure starts with a premise that could very easily be made into a exploitation film, but then takes itself so seriously – as if filmmakers Carlos and Jason Sanchez are trying to convince you this isn’t an exploitation film – that there is a very real danger of sucking all the life of the movie. They are saved basically by two things – the first being their very real visual eye of images  - they are photographers, making their film directing debut and that shows in their striking images, but also their lack of ability to sustain the plot, and the second being Evan Rachel Wood’s fully committed performance in the lead role. Her Laura is basically a wounded animal on the prowl – a skinny, androgynous waif of a character, who is always one step away from striking out. It’s a great performance in search of a better movie – something that has happened too often to Wood (Whatever Works, Down in the Valley, Pretty Persuasion).
The film immediately thrusts you into Laura’s world before you even get a chance to orient yourself. An unknown, slightly overweight man enters her room, and she immediately strips him naked, and then complains to him “You’re no good to me if you can’t get hard” as she abuses his penis. The sex only gets more violent from there – all on her end, not his. You immediately want to know who this person is, and why she is acting this way. It will become clear throughout the movie, in a series of drawn out revelations.
The main plot of the film though has to do with Laura’s obsession with teenager Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), a pretty, shy-ish 16 year old that Laura meets at her job cleaning houses. Laura is drawn to her, and is able to read her strained relationship with her mother just right, to manipulate Eva into first becoming friends, and then more. It isn’t long before she has got Eva to her house – and then locked up. This relationship isn’t really about sex though – there are bedroom scenes between the two of them, but nothing as explicit as the first scene, or another one later on involving another man and Laura. Laura just wants someone to love her unconditionally – and sees Eva as that. She barely even seems to think of her as a person.
The other major character in the film who we sense will play a big role from the beginning is Laura’s father William (Denis O’Hare, one of those great character actors getting a juicier role than normal here). He is also Laura’s boss, bought her that house, and seems to be her entire social circle with the other employees. But their relationship is strained and contains no real affection. You probably know why this is, and you’d be right.
I get that the Sanchez brothers wanted to make a more serious film about this premise than you would normally see – something that takes trauma seriously, and how it never really gets resolved – the ending of the film is both definitive, and yet solves nothing. What they’ve made though is basically a film full of misery, and nothing else – and that can be a slog to get through at times. I wish it had spent some time fleshing out the characters around Laura – Eva remains a complete mystery throughout the film – you can never tell why exactly she stays, when it becomes clear she could leave. Sure her mother is cold, and doesn’t particularly care about her or what she wants – but Laura is out and out abusive at times. There’s not enough to her character that convinces you why she would stay (or, for that matter, if she stayed for everything else, why she flees when she does). O’Hare is great – or at least as great as he can be, when he has to play a character with the equivalent of a hand tied behind his back, as he has to hint at his secrets, without revealing them.
The film does look great though – the Sanchez brothers certainly have an eye for images, and they do wonders here. And Wood throws herself into a role full of purposeful contradictions. There is danger in this type of role to either make it more titillating than it should be or more shameful than it should be, and Wood walks that line brilliantly. It is a performance that saves the movie really. I just hope next time, the Sanchez brothers find more storytelling chops, and Wood finds a movie worthy of a performance this good.

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