I think it’s sometimes easy to dismiss the films of Gregg Araki, and I can understand critics who do. His films quite often have the look and feel of media which (for whatever reason) is often overlooked, whether it’s the dayglo teen-pop-cultural artifice of Nowhere (1997, a film I consider among his finest) or this one, which has a sort of Nicholas Sparks personal-journey soft-focus melodrama feel to it. I have no idea about the literary qualities of the source novel, but the way it comes across in this film suggests it’s an airport novel, one of those hokey thrillers that are easily digested in such an environment. However, there’s something almost Douglas Sirk-like in the way that the film’s surfaces and its dark undertow inflect one another, or perhaps Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life in its evocation of suburban domesticity breeding madness. For while it’s on the one hand a mystery about a disappearance (the lead character’s mother, played vampily by Eva Green), it’s also a subtly-inflected coming-of-age of sorts, as teenager Kat (Shailene Woodley), growing up in small-town USA of the late-80s, negotiates a world of patriarchal pitfalls occasioned by her mother’s disappearance. There’s her uptight dad (Christopher Meloni) and deadbeat neighbour boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez), both of whom try to control her in different ways, and a local cop she hooks up with after her mother’s disappearance. All the men in her life try to guide and mould her, but it’s to the film’s credit that Kat remains self-possessed and in control of her sexuality, unlike her mother for whom suburban domesticity has had a rather more warping effect. In the end, it’s a mystery-with-a-twist so familiar to moviegoers recently (see Gone Girl for the latest iteration), but it’s also about finding an escape from the ‘normal’ life that society pulls us into (something you’d expect Araki to know about, and something that permeates most of his films), and in negotiating these levels of meaning, the luminous Woodley gives a fantastic performance.
Director/Writer Gregg Araki (based on the novel by Laura Kasischke); Cinematographer Sandra Valde-Hansen; Starring Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez; Length 91 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Thursday 16 October 2014.