Dir: Isabel Coixet. UK-Spain. 2013. 86mins
The contemporary Spanish psycho-thriller school meets the British teen movie in Isabel Coixet’s latest feature. But this tired, melodramatic rehash of the old ‘evil twin’ concept is no great advertisement for the mix. Sure, this glossy looking package is aimed at teens rather than cynical old film critics – hence the commercially canny casting of 17 year-old Game Of Thrones star Sophie Turner in a lead role that she does little to light up.
Jean-Claude Larrieu’s atmospheric camerawork does its best to create a feeling of growing dread.
But actual teens may well find the whole thing a little tame – with its edifying smatterings of Shakespeare and over-reliance on scary noises rather than scary scenes or characters, it all feels like a trendy parent’s idea of what her teen daughter might find like, totally cool, without, like, messing with her head too much. Even if the film does appeal to Euro teens in the 14-17 range, it’s unlikely to rope in much of an older demographic: this is an adolescent thriller with considerably less crossover potential than, say, Disturbia or Mean Creek.
Turner plays Fay, a co-ed grammar-school girl who lives with mum (Forlani) and dad (Ifans) on the high-rise outskirts of a British city that is left deliberately anonymous (it’s actually Cardiff). Right from the start, Fay’s voice-over (or is it her?) informs us that things are about to fall apart in this pretty teen schoolgirl’s life, and the story soon obliges: dad has a funny turn and is diagnosed with MS. Soon after, Fay realises her mum is having an affair – obligingly doing it in a car parked just around the corner to save on locations and give wheelchair-bound hubby a rear-window view of the action.
A nearby dank, fogbound pedestrian subway that Fay walks through each day on the way to school sends out bad vibes, leeching into her dreams, and gradually she begins to suspect that somebody is following her or – worse still – pretending to be her. Her suspicions are confirmed by slightly batty next-door neighbour Mrs Brennan (Chaplin), who keeps seeing Fay in places where she wasn’t.
Meanwhile, Fay is cast as Lady Macbeth opposite hot classmate Drew (Sulkin) in a school play directed by Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ dishy drama teacher (who tells her to check out Polanski’s film version to get the character right). The device serves mainly to throw in a female antagonist - Fay’s understudy Monica, who’s riled at not having landed the main role and, usefully for the purposes of a doppelganger psycho-drama, could just about pass for Fay in a foggy underpass – and to chart Fay’s increasing distress as she keeps fluffing her lines (when she finally gets them right it helps that her fellow school actors applaud, otherwise we might have missed it).
Jean-Claude Larrieu’s atmospheric camerawork does its best to create a feeling of growing dread as Fay wonders if it’s Monica or someone else who’s messing with her head and stealing her identity, though at times there’s something a little too artsy-music-video about the whole exercise. But blurry reflections in a lift that keeps breaking down are no substitute for real tension, and a recurring FX trick – windowpanes that develop tiny cracks as we view Fay through them – becomes inadvertently comic after a while.
It’s credit to Ifans, who puts in a committed performance, and to a lesser extent Forlani, that a big mid-term revelation about Fay’s past is prevented from spiraling into absurdity. But this isn’t enough to save a film that might have had some interesting things to say about the power for disruption of the hormonal teen-girl’s psyche – if it had found an interesting way of saying them.
Production companies: Fox International Productions, Rainy Day Films, Tornasol Films
International sales: Fox International
Producers: Rebekah Gilbertson, Nicole Carmen-Davis, Mariela Besuievsky
Executive producers: Steve Milne, Christian Eisenbeiss, Keith Potter, Sarah Golding, Cathy MacPhail, Gerardo Herrero, Katharine Armfelt
Screenplay: Isabel Coixet, based on the novel by Cathy MacPhail
Cinematography: Jean-Claude Larrieu
Editors: Peter Lambert, Elena Ruiz
Production designer: Marie Lanna
Music: Michael Price
Main cast: Sophie Turner, Rhys Ifans, Claire Forlani, Gregg Sulkin, Leonor Watling, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Geraldine Chaplin