UK Release Date: 18th May 2018
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Carlos Sanchez, Jason Sanchez
Writer: Carlos Sanchez, Jason Sanchez
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Julia Sarah Stone, Denis O’Hare, Maxim Roy
Synopsis: A troubled, lonely woman working as a cleaner begins a relationship with the teenage daughter of one of her clients, which becomes increasingly intense and uncomfortable after they move in together.
In last year’s brilliant Call Me By Your Name, the relationship between a teenage boy and a man in his twenties was treated as an idyllic, if complex romance. The flip side of that coin is portrayed in the bizarre, alienating drama Allure, in which Evan Rachel Wood exercises abusive control over her younger partner, having – consciously or unconsciously – manipulated her into running away from her family in order to be with her. It’s a tough and opaque movie that never has a story to match its performances.
It’s a strange film, from Canadian sibling directors Carlos and Jason Sanchez, that begins with Laura (Wood) having an angry altercation with a man who doesn’t seem to want to go along with her penchant for rough sex. She is then shown at work, where she cleans fancy homes. During one cleaning session, she meets teenage pianist Eva (Julia Sarah Stone) and they bond over the fact the seemingly prim youngster has a Nirvana poster on her wall. It seems like no time at all until Laura seizes upon a row between Eva and her demanding mother (Maxim Roy) to convince the teenager to run away from home and move in with her.
From the start, there’s a problem with the relationship. There’s very little to their initial attraction beyond the Nirvana poster, but they’re soon talking about how they’re “soulmates” while Wood becomes increasingly unhinged and erratic. It quickly becomes clear that there’s trauma in Laura’s past and this leads to a gradually escalating unravelling of her mental state as she confronts the intensity of her feelings.
The only thing rescuing the film from total failure is the tremendous pair of leading performances. Wood, channelling the recent indie work of Kristen Stewart, is compelling and complicated in a way that helps the audience trust that she knows exactly who this character is, even if the movie is never willing to communicate that in any meaningful way. When Wood is so laid bare, there’s no excuse for the film to withdraw into itself.
Julia Sarah Stone delivers an equally excellent performance, depicting the strange combination of passion and uncertainty that has driven her into the web of a spider she didn’t know was venomous. One scene, in which she delivers a timid karaoke performance of Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ is outwardly carefree, but feels oddly restrained, as if she’s not quite comfortable in these shoes yet. That’s equally true of the movie itself, which never quite seems to have the comfort in its own skin to properly interrogate and examine its problematic character dynamics.
Allure comes within a whisker of being a very good film, but scuppers itself with a self-consciously artful, opaque style. Questions are left unanswered, crucial plot threads are discarded or under-explained and there’s never enough material for these complete and intricate performances to be properly depicted on the big screen. These characters certainly merit further exploration and they’re very nicely realised, but the Sanchez brothers have just hit the post in telling a gripping and complete story.
Pop or Poop?
Evan Rachel Wood and Julia Sarah Stone really fly with complex roles in this frustrating drama. Allure has interesting things to say about the impact of abuse, but never manages to make the pieces of its story fit together into a coherent and gripping tale.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.