Adventures in Streaming: Aaviri

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

This review does indeed have significant spoilers.

Aaviri is an Indian horror-thriller, wherein a family’s older daughter dies of an asthma attack after being left alone in the swimming pool. After this tragedy, her parents decide to leave the house because there are too many sad memories; they move with their younger daughter into a new house, where the little girl has supernatural experiences and seems to be talking to a ghost or imaginary friend.

In the end, this ghost/imaginary friend ends up being the spirit of the older daughter, who’s trying to protect her family from a vengeful ghost. Her efforts are not particularly helpful, as the mother is possessed by the angry spirit and nearly kills the younger daughter. In the end, though, the little girl is rescued, the mother de-possessed, and the guilty party caught and punished for his crimes.

The atmosphere in Aaviri is good – suitably creepy, not hidden in deep, unnecessary shadows. The characters are presented fairly realistically, although the mother is a little histrionic and the father is randomly detached and then jovial. The scary effects are largely practical, and since they typically happen in daylight or brightly lit rooms, they seem more unexpected and effective. We’re not sure at first if the little girl’s imaginary friend is good or bad or even real, and this ambiguity goes all the way to the final act of the film, when we’re introduced to the vengeful spirit that’s actually behind the negative supernatural experiences.

We get to see pretty early on that the father is cheating on his wife and is basically sexually harassing women at work, but since we witnessed the older daughter’s death, we don’t associate the father with any kind of murderous tendencies. We don’t particularly like him as far as a husband, but he seems to be a loving dad. This helps set up the reveal at the end … but ultimately we weren’t disposed to like him anyway, so we aren’t surprised or disappointed when we find out what he had done to anger the vengeful spirit. We also don’t get any back story on him or on the family, though, so we have zero clues to what the vengeful spirit might be upset about or even to the existence of said spirit at all. We’re asked to think that the angry ghost is the older daughter, but … why? Nothing in any interaction suggested a negative home life for the girls or any tension between the parents. It’s just a red herring that’s not even plausible enough to really fool the audience.

Not being from India myself, usually when I watch something that doesn’t explain the mythology or the interactions with the supernatural, I just assume that in the film’s country of origin, these things are a given that the general local audience would understand. But even with that assumption, I felt that the segue into the vengeful spirit and the possession and the escalation of paranormal occurrences was super abrupt, with no lead-in or connection to existing events – we’re just supposed to know that this was going to happen, even though the creepy atmosphere the whole rest of the film was subtle and slow-paced. Basically, we’re settling into a slow-burn, tiny-clues sort of film and then – BAM! – we’re drenched with a bucket of cold water. Maybe he wanted us to feel like we were suddenly possessed? We also don’t get much of a timeline for the abduction of the little girl, so our fear for her is pretty much nonexistent, but then suddenly she’s at death’s door and we’re supposed to feel the nervous tension of an undetonated-bomb action movie.

The father’s crimes aren’t that connected to his philandering and creeping on his coworkers. Maybe the director didn’t think being an unfaithful creep was “bad”, and that we would be stunned by the revelation that the father did the thing (dun-dun-duuunnn)?

The mother, who’s been on edge the whole film, somehow recovers from being possessed as though it happens every Tuesday; the vengeful ghost isn’t acknowledged for what she went through as much as I would have hoped, since the whole movie is about how she was wronged. The older daughter seems to have died for no reason, and the ghost’s targeting the father’s family instead of just him directly didn’t mesh with what we knew of her.

Overall, it was not super bad … but it was not super good. The atmosphere was compelling, but to be honest, it was the only reason I kept watching after the half-way mark, because the plot moves pretty slowly. The kids do a good job acting, but the adults aren’t as consistent at it, and that imbalance makes the flaws more obvious. The director is also the man who plays the father, and I’m thinking he should not direct himself. The practical effects made for a creepier experience, but the possessed effects sort of … didn’t. It’s not a waste of your time, but it’s also not the end of the world if you don’t get around to it.

popcorn icon  4 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: Hangman (2017)

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Hangman is a film starring Karl Urban (Will), Al Pacino (Ray), and Brittany Snow (Christi); Will and Ray were partnered detectives until Ray’s retirement, and Christi is a journalist assigned to Will as part of a project. When a serial killer begins a “game” of hangman with human victims, Ray is convinced to come out of retirement to help Will catch him. Ultimately the killer – who is someone from Ray’s past – targets the main characters as well as their boss, and since he’s killing quickly, the detectives know they don’t have much time to track him down before he kills again.

So … where to begin here?

The three actors playing the leads offer the same good acting they usually do; the problem lies more in the pacing, the dialogue, and the editing: the characters don’t get to know one another, the audience doesn’t get to know them, and the dialogue is not only bare-bones but also disjointed, as though pieces of the film were spliced together (badly) after someone cut up the original.

We feel as though we arrived in the middle of a story, but this introductory scene has so little to do with the rest of the plot that the one connection – mentioned at the very end of the movie – seems to be completely contrived: “Oh, yeah, we have to have a reason why the van in the beginning was important.” It’s almost as though the director forgot himself what point he was making, and quickly tacked it on at the last minute.

Ray has the potential to be truly interesting, but he’s relegated to saying a couple of almost random things to the coroner and to Will; his conversations with Christi are structured as though they’ve known each other forever, even though he never laid eyes on her before that day. Perhaps the intention was to present him as a father-figure … but in the end, this presentation of his every word as somehow deeply meaningful just comes across as an old detective who’s trying to feel relevant but can’t deliver the way he once did.

Will has a tragic back-story that turns out to be connected to the killer, but not because the killer knew Will or his late wife; it’s simply a huge coincidence … or maybe it was supposed to be targeted, but the connection is never discussed other than to cast doubt on Will, or on his wife, or … actually, I’m not sure why it was in the story at all. Maybe it was to provide a reason for Will to be even more determined to catch the killer? – but he was already fairly determined, since, you know, he’s a homicide detective. Maybe it was meant to emotionally compromise Will, so that we would wonder if he would be able to handle tracking the killer down? – but Will is never emotionally compromised about any of it. He seems mostly just to be vaguely irritated. The movie takes the time to point out how much Will hasn’t gotten over his wife’s death, but all of his mannerisms and actions suggest that he’s recovered just fine – the alleged prolonged grief literally never informs anything his character does at all, ever.

Christi’s back story is fairly important, both as her motivation for the project she’s writing and as a parallel to what is offered as a theme for the movie: she has reason to know how much police detectives can give up for their demanding, emotionally draining jobs, and she wants to honour and reward them with her story. But Will and Ray aren’t presented as people who’ve particularly given up much on an emotional level; in fact, Ray misses the job so much that he can’t stay away. Is he having trouble feeling valuable in retirement, as so many people do? – maybe, but no one ever discusses that openly or even covertly, so this potential character development goes nowhere. Christi’s back story is offered in narrative fashion, half-way through the film, pursuant to nothing that’s happened in the film to that point, and in regards to a police officer in her own life who is completely unknown to either detective. It has no depth or significance other than that it meant something to her, but since we don’t see anything about it, it might as well be her ordering takeout.

The murderer is presented as a serial killer with an intricate message that he is sending to police/the world by requiring detectives to decipher clues at each crime scene. A hangman-game letter is carved on each victim, which is narratively compelling and visually interesting. But the clues are almost invisible to the audience, the visuals are scant and disconnected, a whole person seems to have been removed from the body count the detectives are using (even though they continue to mention this person as a victim), and until the literal last minute, there’s no real attempt by the detectives to figure out the word the killer is trying to spell.

Some of the murders are set up in interesting ways … I guess there’s that.

To the actors’ credit, I don’t think any of this is their fault. They bring the same good energy I’ve experienced from them in other roles, but even the best artist won’t win at Pictionary if no one tells them what they’re supposed to be drawing. They look and sound throughout as though they delivered a solid performance that was later hacked to shreds in the editing room and put back together by kindergartners.

The story is never focused on any one thing. Side stories are never fleshed out or addressed. No one is given the chance to seem like a genuine person. Events happen so quickly that we don’t have time to absorb what happened to one victim before there’s another, and even the nick-of-time rescues are performed with the same lack of urgency or tension as waiting for pizza delivery. Stuff that’s deliberately mentioned as potential clues is never brought up again. The introductory chase is never fully explained other than to suggest the killer seems to have been in the van – we don’t even know why we care about this van, other than that Ray was chasing it down for sideswiping him. Nothing happens with the van. Nothing happens in the van. Nothing happens next to the van. Ray sees an icon hanging from the rear-view mirror, but the icon isn’t particularly unique or pertinent to the killer’s character – he might as well say that we know the killer was the driver of the van because the killer had a driver’s license. The story itself is presented in such a disjointed way that it doesn’t even feel like a story, and, worst of all, the killer ends up being someone we have never seen or heard about in the entire rest of the film.

The blurb for Hangman piques curiosity and promises a good installment in the genre … but in the end it’s a dumpster fire.

popcorn icon  0 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: Casting Jonbenet

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Casting Jonbenet is a documentary that looks not so much at the events and investigation surrounding Jonbenet’s death but rather at the opinions, feelings and perceptions of those who are auditioning to play various parts in the movie-documentaries about her.

Various facts about her death are presented as well as a timeline of investigation, and we see a lot of images of Jonbenet – at her pageants, a few family photos. The investigation is chronicled in a passive way as we hear from the actors auditioning to play the various roles – for instance, while talking to the men who are trying out to be Jonbenet’s father, we hear the facts and suppositions that have informed those men’s opinions about what actually happened.

It’s not action-packed, obviously, but the pacing is good. We never get to learn anything new about the case, which parallels very profoundly the initial event – when we all waited to hear what had happened and eagerly anticipated finding out that her killer had been identified and brought to justice. Some theories are put forth – everyone from her brother to random inmates who claimed responsibility – but DNA from the crime scene excluded these individuals … meaning that there was no proof they did it, but technically a great many things are possible, including that there was more than one assailant. No one theory – even in this expository documentary – ultimately carries more weight than another, and in the end, we’re left with the random statements and observations of people trying out for a part.

These people, though … taken all together, their collective opinions and sentiments paint an interesting picture. Especially as we watch the little girls who are trying out to be Jonbenet herself, it’s striking that we don’t really hear as much from these girls as we do from the older actors – of course we don’t, since the actors trying out to be Jonbenet are very little children, and may not even fully understand that they’re portraying a real person who died. Even with the supplementary information about the case and the investigation and all the competing new and old theories, it becomes quickly clear that people “remember” the case with the things that they supposed and surmised and felt about it at the time, rather than the factual particulars. In the end, we see why it’s “casting” Jonbenet – because we have no more handle on what happened, really, than we would if it were a made-up case in a show where the director wants to keep the audience guessing. Most importantly, even though this was a real event and Jonbenet was a real little girl, her story has crossed over more into legend than history, so much so that any new actual evidence would likely not affect people’s predetermined notions about what happened.

The little Jonbenets don’t say much, being five or six or seven years old … and that’s striking too. We can’t speak to the only person, besides her killer(s), that knows what happened that day, because she’s dead. We couldn’t speak to her before that either, particularly, because she was so little. I think that’s why her case was so compelling to follow even in its sadness – we wanted to know what had happened to her, we wanted to be able to protect her somehow even though it was too late, we wanted to know what happened so we could prevent it with other little people in our lives who were also too little to talk. But we didn’t get to know. The people auditioning for parts in the docu-movies don’t get to know. In the end, we’re left with no more information than a lot of us already had about the case … and the image of a little girl dancing who doesn’t say anything to us.

Casting Jonbenet is a really effective emotional parallel to the case itself, and an interesting look at how facts get subverted by our perceptions of them. Overall, it’s well-done and worth watching.

popcorn icon  8 out of 10.

Adventures in Streaming: The Sea of Trees

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

The Sea of Trees is the story of a Arthur (played by Matthew MacConaughey) who has planned a trip to the Aokigahara Forest in Japan; although he doesn’t seem particularly unhappy, and even looks around him as though the city and countryside were captivating, he is obviously coming to the Suicide Forest to end his life. Before he can take action, however, he encounters Takumi (played by Ken Watanabe) who is desperately lost, wandering around trying to get out of the forest. He’s injured and exhausted, but he’s changed his mind about killing himself and now just wants to return to his wife and child.

Arthur decides to help Takumi, leading him toward the trail he had just taken to get into the forest. Somehow, though, the trail has disappeared, and Arthur has become as disoriented as Takumi. The two men spend many hours together, searching for a way out. As they get to know each other, talking about the reasons they had come there in the first place, we see a series of flashbacks to Arthur’s life with his wife Joan (played by Naomi Watts). Through these flashbacks we come to understand why Arthur wanted to die, but we also want both men to find joy in living again.

Both Matthew MacConaughey and Naomi Watts are good actors who, therefore, are extremely effective at playing people who are difficult to like. When the flashbacks began, and I saw the two of them in a fairly rocky marriage, I almost gave up on The Sea of Trees, because I didn’t want to watch two gut-wrenching hours of their marriage devolving into suicidal mutual loathing. But I continued anyway, already curious about whether or not Takumi would make it home, and I was glad I stayed with it: the flashbacks ultimately portray a very real couple who are working through some difficult times in the best way they know how. They turn into people we can like, and it makes it even more tense then, to wonder what brought him from that home and marriage with Joan to a place where he could end it all.

The Aokigahara Forest, both physically and culturally, has strong spiritual significance, allowing the characters to have possibly otherworldly experiences that might have seemed contrived or ironic in a Western setting. The juxtaposition of flashbacks from that Western world with the dark beauty of the forest is a perfect metaphor for Arthur’s struggle between trying to die and wanting to live. Ken Watanabe conveys a lot of emotion with few words. The connection between Arthur and Takumi is genuine and believable, from the moment Arthur decides to help him. Arthur’s and Joan’s characters are well fleshed out without making the story-telling ponderous or overly maudlin. The various mysteries surrounding all three characters keep us interested, and the final reveal is truly rewarding.

The Sea of Trees is definitely worth watching.

popcorn icon  10 out of 10.

Adventures in Streaming: The Chaperone

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

The Chaperone

The Chaperone depicts the transition of the main character, Ray, out of prison and back into the regular world, and follows his attempts to reconnect with his teenage daughter Sally. He hopes to spend time with her, but she’s not sure she wants to spend time with him – he’s been gone for a few years – so he contrives to be one of the chaperones on her school field trip to New Orleans.

Unfortunately, the men from his prior life want him to rejoin them, and when he chooses the field trip over a bank heist, his former partners blame the heist’s failure on Ray. They follow him – and the school bus – to New Orleans, where they hope to punish Ray for abandoning them.

Ray has a mentor, a radio-show host, whose guidance helped him both to weather his time in prison and to become a better man upon his release. Her motto is applicable to anyone: “Confront your past, be truthful about it, and let it go.” When his daughter suggests that he had gone to jail for something he didn’t do, he says that, even though the others didn’t get caught for their part in the crime, Ray himself had actually done the thing he had gone to prison for, and there was no reason to pretend otherwise.

Ray demonstrates ethical and positive behaviour and decision-making, even when taking an easier, more lucrative, and less ethical path was consistently offered to him. Ultimately, he earns the respect of his daughter and her mother, avoids going back to the life that sent him to prison, and continues his journey to improve himself as a father and as a human being.

Obviously, action comedies (much like romantic comedies) rely on premises that are fairly unlikely and even ridiculous; this isn’t particularly a negative aspect of a movie as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into. The Chaperone’s premise is actually a more realistic one than some I’ve seen, and it’s consistent throughout. In fact, the bad guys – Ray’s former “friends” – aren’t presented as really all that scary, and are often comical in their words and actions, but this only makes it more jarring when it turns out they really are bad, and they really intend to hurt Ray and his family. Depicting the bad guys in this way supports the metaphor of Ray’s journey – we can see very well how he got caught up in criminal activities with these men who seemed so friendly and so harmless; we can see that Ray had probably started out as blind to their true colours as we were, and that he didn’t see how deep a hole he had dug for himself until it was too late. He never cries victim, though, which shows us that he’s living up to his mentor’s motto about accepting the truth.

The acting is solid – although some of the characters are stereotypical – and the pacing is good. Do school trips really look like that? Probably not. Does law enforcement really work that way? Almost certainly not. But the movie is an action-comedy, not a gritty drama, and the more lighthearted approach allows the focus to be on Ray and Sally rather than on the more difficult questions of good and evil. It also allows the film to be family-friendly, which is great, since it lets a good message be delivered to as many people as possible.

In the end, the film is about the truth motto Ray learned from his mentor – not just to accept our own truth and to be honest, but to realize that every experience is a lesson that can move us forward. We can be released from our personal prisons by seeing the possibility of change, growth, and redemption. We can learn, and improve, and become someone who deserves another chance.

This movie was one of my first streaming experiments – and one that I shared with my young son – and I’m really glad we gave it a shot.

popcorn icon   10 out 10

Adventures in Streaming

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

The Secret

The Secret (Netflix Original 2018 Indonesia) is in many respects a typical haunting movie.

Kanaya, a young woman upset with her father for marrying a woman half his age, drives angrily away from the house, swerves to miss something in the road, and crashes into a tree, knocking herself out and landing herself in the hospital. Her boyfriend is there when she wakes up, explaining that she’s been in a car accident and that he will take her to her family’s summer home in the country to convalesce.

While still in the hospital, Kanaya experiences a couple of paranormal things, and sees a pretty grisly looking ghost that attacks her in the middle of the night. The ghost seems to follow her to the summer home, but Kanaya’s attention is focused more on the neighbours, whose little girl introduces her to her nanny. The nanny befriends Kanaya, and the two spend time together looking after the little girl and playing games with her – games like hide-and-seek, during which Kanaya ends up in an abandoned house fleeing from the persistent ghost from the hospital. She’s also noticing that passers-by are giving her strange looks, but the nanny says they always do that, and refers to them as busybodies.

The ghost of Kanaya’s mother is also involved, trying to warn her daughter of danger.

In the end, Kanaya learns the truth about her car accident, about her boyfriend’s actions that night, about the busybodies, and about the identity of the ghost that’s been following her.

The Secret is actually pretty good – the effects are practical and therefore convincing, the storyline is typical but engaging, and the final little twists of the plot are unexpected. We feel a little sorry for the boyfriend, but not that sorry. We do feel sorry for the ghost from the hospital, who’s just trying to be heard and seek justice. The little girl is psychic, something that is apparently culturally normal for the people in the film, which is a nice change from the over-used Western trope of “no one really believes in psychics or psychic phenomena.” But of course, since the little girl is psychic, we kind of see a couple of the twists coming about who’s real and who might actually be a ghost. Still, there’s some mystery about how many ghosts there are, their motivations, and where Kanaya fits into all this.

There are a couple of fairly effective red herrings, as well, so that we’re not entirely sure who all is connected to the situation until the very end. And the typical horror ending – where the bad guy wins – is perked up a bit by the bad guy winning against another bad guy.

The actress who plays Kanaya seems a little flat at times, but overall she does okay, and there are a couple of humourous moments in the film as well that make a contrast to its overall creepiness – helping it to seem a bit more real.

The Secret is ultimately suitably eerie, with a good story and a good ending.

popcorn icon   7 out of 10

 

Adventures in Streaming

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Office

[not that one – the one out of Korea]

Office is a film about a young woman working in an office with a man who has just murdered his entire family. When the detective on the case meets this young woman, he realizes that she seems to be the only one in the office who liked the man. She also seems to know a lot more about him than his other colleagues.

Security footage shows the man coming into the office building but never leaving; the detective believes the man is hiding in the building, and that his colleagues may be in danger. But will the detective reach them in time to save them?!?!?

No.

We watch as the employees who spend their day bullying the man and the young woman, sparring with one another, talking badly about one another, screwing each other over and treating each other poorly are killed in grisly, abrupt ways. We aren’t entirely sure if the man is still living, or if he’s some kind of ghost on an afterlife revenge mission. Ultimately, we aren’t sure if the young woman is part of it, but we’re fairly certain her future path will be a little more like his than before.

This film provides good suspense and a creepy atmosphere. The colleague characters aren’t particularly one-dimensional, even though many of them play the stereotypical bully; we actually begin to see some of the reasons why they bully, and we’re not entirely unsympathetic. The detective and the young woman are very well fleshed-out. There are a couple of jump-scares, but mostly the film is a build-up of tension, wondering where the man is and when or if he’ll strike.

We never really hear from the man – we don’t really get to know why he chose murder, or if he was particularly bothered by his treatment at work. We see flash-back moments and people describing things verbally, but the man is generally kind (one of the reasons the young woman appreciates him), and we don’t really see any turning-point moment where he decides to attack the others. In fact, the responses – and the murders in the office – seem to be more in tune with what the young woman is experiencing, leading to some of the ambiguity about just who’s killing who.

In the end, the slasher scenes are entertaining, the bullies are eliminated, the good guy pretty much catches the bad guy, and the woman is rescued. The atmosphere is effective and the characters are engaging. The ambiguity is deliberate, so that the final moment of the film causes us to reconsider in a new light everything we’ve already seen.

It’s a good film, well worth watching.

popcorn icon    9 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Bushwick

Bushwick tells the story of a girl coming home from school only to find her neighbourhood – and pretty much the whole city – in a shambles: people who may or not be military are shooting at anything that moves, and no one around her seems to have any answers. She wants to get home, to get to her family, and to get said family to safety, but the road is treacherous.

She encounters a couple of people who are willing to help her, or more properly, they are convinced to help her as long as it also helps them. She does reach an extraction point of sorts, but the situation is ultimately even scarier than we had witnessed to that point.

Bushwick opens with a continuous shot that lasts uninterrupted for much of the movie – this unusual approach allows the audience to feel engaged with the scenes much more than with conventional filming. The sound effects are immersive and fairly realistic; the visuals are interesting. The girl’s primary companion tells part of a compelling back story that we want to hear more about, and there are several clues to what’s going on (from radios, other characters, etc.) that convince us to stay with the story.

Where it starts to fall down is in the lack of follow-through: the clues and explanation don’t indicate where the story will go, and her companion never really fleshes out his whole story and subsequent motivation. His training would suggest that he can triumph over their attackers more effectively than the untrained girl could do alone, but he’s really just more of a sidekick following her grudgingly from place to place. Their chemistry is good, but in an attempt (I think) to make the chaos of the strange situation feel … well … chaotic, the characters are brought together and torn apart in an abrupt manner with little closure – like real life, yes, but for most of us, we watch films – even gritty films – because we want to escape real life for a little while. We generally want to get to know the characters, and, if something happens to one of them, we want the other characters or the events to reflect that the character mattered in some way.

For the chaos to have been an effective build-up to final events, we would have needed a solid ending – but Bushwick ends on almost a cliff-hanger, leaving more questions than it answers. If it’s meant to be the start of a longer story, that would be great, but it doesn’t look like that’s in the works.

Ultimately, the movie is worth watching for the experimental cinematography which is pretty effective and creative, and for the chemistry between the characters, which is believable and engaging. It does achieve its goal of bringing us into a chaotic world, and one of the many questions we’re left with is, “What would we do in that situation? It’s pretty scary to think about.” But unless they manage to bring out another installment of this story, we’re left with a tale that ends kind of in the middle of a sentence.

 

popcorn icon    7 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming …

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

“LAVENDER”

Lavender describes the journey of photographer Jane as she learns there is more to her past than she remembers.

The pacing at first is slow; we don’t really glimpse a whole lot about the characters. We’re made aware that there’s tension between Jane and her husband Alan, but we don’t particularly explore it. Some of the things that happen in the first half hour only seem strange because the characters act strangely about them – otherwise the incidents and encounters wouldn’t be disturbing or unlikely, so we easily wonder if Jane is in fact hallucinating and imagining things.

One day while driving, Jane becomes suddenly aware of a little girl standing in the road in front of the car. Jane swerves to avoid her, and the scene goes into super-slow-motion. Slow-motion is used in other scenes as well, in a way that makes the scenes seem sluggish; by the time she’s swerved around the little girl, we’ve grown bored watching the careening car and are just waiting to see the outcome.

One good side about not delving too deeply into the characters or their history is that we’re obliged to take everyone at face value – if someone’s introduced to us as a doctor or a store-keeper, we sort of need to accept it without asking a lot of questions. So when it turns out the doctor isn’t really a doctor, and the store-keeper isn’t really a store-keeper, and the doctor in fact isn’t even really visible to other people, we feel reasonably surprised.

The film also does a good job of setting up eeriness – weather and lighting create a mood without being heavy-handed. The random and inexplicable delivery of various strange “gifts” to Jane is intriguing, and builds a mystery that we want to solve with Jane. Because we see the doctor acting like a creeper, we’re happy to distrust everyone else in the film as well, so that there’s some tension about just who is or isn’t the “bad guy”. And the scattering of clues is clear but not obvious, so that when the final truth is revealed, we can go back mentally and feel both surprised at the twists and as though we solved the mystery with Jane.

In the end, the purpose of the super-slow-motion becomes clearer: this is how Jane’s brain – damaged during the traumatic incident in her childhood – has dealt with that incident. She doesn’t have a clear picture; she only has a series of images that her head tries to slow down enough to analyze. She’s also been trapped in this forgotten past – since she can’t remember it, she can’t process it, deal with it, grieve about it, or move on. Her entire life has been the drawn-out slow-motion tail end of a terrifying story she can’t recall. Once the truth is revealed to her, the scenes pick up the pace, and Jane is suddenly sprinting, making quick decisions, and acting swiftly: she’s “woken up”, and instead of being acted upon by outside forces, Jane is able to interact with and affect the world.

Overall, the movie’s pacing – even though it’s purpose ultimately is a valid and fairly interesting metaphor for Jane’s psychological struggle – risks the audience giving up midway through a film that has a good story, fairly smooth acting, and solid messages about love and the protection of children. Not spending more time on developing the characters in the opening minutes means that the viewers who stay are the ones who intrinsically like to solve mysteries. And it might have been nice, after seeing ghosts interact with Jane the entire film, for the audience to be given a little more explicit view of what the ghosts are likely going to do to the bad guy. But the story is satisfying, the bad guy is discovered, the child is rescued, and Jane is allowed to know about both her history and her family’s love. The living characters seem to be rebuilding their relationships, and the ghost characters get to resolve their own murders and punish their killer.

In the end Lavender was worth watching, and I would be willing to watch it again.

Final Score:  7 out of 10.