ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Allure (2017) starring Evan Rachel Wood DVD (Eureka!)
Evan Rachel Wood plays Laura Drake, a house cleaner who is contracted out on behalf of a company run by her father (played by Denis O'Hare). Her latest client is a single mother named Nancy (Maxim Roy) who lives with her 16-year old daughter Eva (Julia Sarah Stone). There’s friction between the two family members because the mother insists on pushing her daughter down the path of becoming a classical pianist, despite the fact that the latter is not that passionate about the music. Out of this background, Laura and Eva begin to form a bond of friendship. When Eva falls out with her mother after she announces that they are moving in with her new boyfriend, Laura persuades her to move out of this uncomfortable family situation and stay at her own house for a while.
However, Laura has her own designs on the young and sexually-blossoming adolescent - and starts using a range of tactics to manipulate and coerce her into being her live-in lover.
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Touchy subject matter
Allure is an atmospheric and decidedly controversial movie debut courtesy of the Sanchez brothers, a duo of Montreal-born fine art photographers turned filmmakers. It focuses on a fully-grown woman with evident psychological issues who grooms a naive and barely of-age girl into forming a lesbian relationship with her. Her tactics include plying her with alcohol and cannabis, playing on her innate guilt for running away from her mother to be in a potentially illegal relationship with another woman, locking her in a room, lying to her and even lying to the cops when she’s listed as a missing person. Moreover, while the film doesn’t exactly condone Laura’s reprehensible behaviour, it does ultimately imbue the viewer with some sense of empathy and understanding as to why she is the way she is. It also depicts a psychological phenomenon known as Stockholm Syndrome, whereby Eva increasingly reciprocates the sexual and emotional aspects of the relationship - even after she has been so blatantly abused.
However, while it confronts such incredibly touchy subject matter in an unusually head-on and frank manner, it doesn’t feel exploitative. The few sex scenes that feature here feel more uncomfortable than leeringly graphic; indeed, the film opens with a singularly ugly moment involving Laura banging a blindfolded man in a hotel room, only to suddenly start beating him around the face. However, far from sadomasochistically welcoming the act, the recipient just angrily turfs her out of the room. We get the sense that it is another in a long line of dysfunctional sexual encounters which characterise her life.
The performances here are outstanding. Evan Rachel Wood turns in a truly nuanced piece of work here as a poisonous and manipulative person who still retains her own vulnerability and emotional centre. The less well-known Julia Sarah Stone is almost as impressive as a complex victim who has only begun to discover her own adult assertiveness and sexuality. The third notable performance is that of Denis O'Hare, who plays a father visibly brought to the edge of wreckage in his desperate attempts to hold things together with his daughter. What’s his overall role in the story? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out.
However, while Allure is admirable in its performances and sense of honesty, a few technical and storytelling aspects fail to convince. While the police interview Laura as to the whereabouts of Eva, they subsequently drop out of the story without even attempting to take the obvious next step, i.e. searching her house. The film even inserts a scene a little later in the runtime involving Eva’s mother asking Laura to hand out missing person flyers as the police have apparently given up their search. Really guys - is that all of the effort you’re prepared to put in when searching for someone’s treasured daughter? At other times, it really suffers from inadequate production values, a classic example being a pivotal scene involving a power cut at a swimming pool which doesn’t work as intended because the entire room is evenly illuminated with a dim red light. The climactic the resolution/revelation scenes also feel rather too abrupt considering the film’s deliberate pacing up to that point.
Allure is difficult to rate objectively because your own opinion of it is going to depend very much on your acceptance of its highly controversial premise. However, you feel that you can face a film which tackles the complex issues surrounding abusive/controlling relationships in an unusually measured manner, then it’s certainly worth a look.
Runtime: 105 mins
Dir: Carlos Sanchez, Jason Sanchez
Script: Carlos Sanchez, Jason Sanchez
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Julia Sarah Stone, Denis O'Hare, Maxim Roy
Some of the images are somewhat blurry and suffer from poor contrast. I’m not certain whether it’s an issue with the original source or the DVD rendering - or both. Sound-wise, however, everything is A-OK.
This is one film which I can imagine will upset many viewers. Others, however, will appreciate its frank approach to its subject matter.