48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Peter Jackson's captivating murder story with no villains,
This review is from: Heavenly Creatures [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)For those who wondered how the director of "Bad Taste" and "Brain Dead" got to direct "The Lord of the Rings," this 1994 film from director Peter Jackson supplies the answer. In 1954 two teenage girls brutally murdered one of the their mothers in what must be the most sensational murder in New Zealand history. "Heavenly Creatures" tells the strange story of these two girls and their unique relationship. If you think this is just a reality based splatter flick, then you are going to be much more than surprised and impressed by what Jackson has accomplished.
Pauline Rieper (Melanie Lynskey) is a simple and rather dull young girl who is totally dazzled when Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet) enters her life. Juliet is impressed as well, because Pauline has a scar on her leg from an operation. Juliet declares that: "All the best people have had chest and bone disease! It's all frightfully romantic!" Eventually both the romance and the frightfullness of it all reaches a tragic conclusion. In their all consuming friendship Juliet and Pauline create a "Fourth World," better than heaven (because it has no Christians), inhabited by the clay figures they have fashioned to represents their friends and where the music of Mario Lanza, the greatest tenor on earth, is always in the air.
Jackson brings this fantasy world alive, which allows him to explore the pivotal theme of juxtaposition throughout the film. This comes into play most notably at the beginning and ending of "Heavenly Clouds." Jackson begins with a 1950s newsreel about Christchurch, New Zealand, which is interrupted by the appearance of the two screaming and bloodied girls, thereby symbolizing the way this sensational case shocked the nation. Even more effective is the film's conclusion, where the murder is inter-cut with what the girls think will happen if they do not find this way of saving themselves.
With any film based on historical events there are omissions, alterations, substitutions, and the like, and "Heavenly Creatures" is no different. On the plus side of the ledger Jackson attempted an almost morbid verisimilitude. Almost all of the locations used for filming were the real locations where events occurred, including the tea shop where Honora Parker ate her last meal, which was torn down a few days after the shooting ended. However, the cast and crew found the actual murder scene uncomfortable and moved further down the path. All of the journal voice-overs come directly from Pauline's diary, as are the characters in the girls' make-believe world. However, since the two filled up fifteen notebooks and hundreds of letters devoted to their fantasies, the movie actually underplays these elements.
However, having familiarized myself somewhat with the actual "facts" of the case, and the recollections of the woman one of the girls grew up to be, the key point of dispute is the motive. But if Jackson is guilty of becoming fixated on the idea that these two young girl committed a murder because they could not bear to be separated and have their fantasy world unravel, then he can be hardly faulted for finding that a fascinating interpretation of the evidence (the girls never testified or were examined in court, but Pauline's diary was seen as providing all the answers). More importantly, Jackson does not seem guilty of taking liberties, merely with offering a valid interpretation of the evidence. For example, the murder sequence greatly reduces the number of blows, but the effect is still horrific, so it seems trivial to complain about any inaccuracy.
From an artistic standpoint his interpretation is more than justified, especially at the end. In addition to the information we receive between the final scene and the closing credits that tells what happened to Pauline and Juliet, Marzio Lanza sings "You'll Never Walk Alone," which is as perfect a choice of a song to play at the end of a film as you will ever hear, forcefully underscoring the film's thesis. Jackson says this is "a murder story about love, a murder story with no villains," and it is hard to argue with this idea after watching his film.
"Heavenly Creatures" received an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for Jackson and Frances Walsh. The film won every award for which it was nominated in the New Zealand Film and TV Awards, including Best Actress for Lynskey and Best Foreign Performer for Winslet (both of whom were perfectly suited for those roles), and earned film festival awards in Venice and Toronto. This is a striking and unforgettable film, both creative and thoughtful. Those who are drawn to it because it was directed by Peter Jackson might be shocked by the subject matter, but they will not be disappointed with the results.