AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: NOW, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 105 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Oficial HCF Critic
30-year old Laura Drake has had a traumatic past and now spends most of her time drinking vodka, smoking cigarettes and having meaningless sexual encounters where she always has to be in control. She has two jobs; an office assistant in William her father’s office, and a house cleaner. In one of the houses she has to clean lives 16-year old Eva and her strict mother Nancy. Laura and Eva click, and Laura convinces Eva to escape her repressive home life and move in with her. However, Laura just can’t stop being controlling even as she may be falling in love with the teenager….
I did skim a review of Allure [previously entitled A Worthy Companion] a while back when it came under my radar and can recall the writer calling it an “erotic thriller”. I suppose if you have to pigeonhole everything you see then “erotic thriller” is as good a term as any for this particular film, though it’s a bit misleading. Sure, it deals a great deal with sex and has considerable tension to it, but I doubt that anyone watching it will find it erotic, while they will look in vain for conventional thrills you may expect such as murders and car chases. It is, though, a highly impressive, even remarkable debut from brothers Carlos and Jason Sanchez, previously best known for their work in photography. The latter should immediately let you know that you’re in for a visually strong watch, but the result can certainly not be called style over substance. Uncomfortable yet compelling, frightening yet compassionate, it’s an incisive, intelligent and, aside from a few oddly conceived scenes and moments that don’t ring true and which thereby stick out, a horrifyingly believable look at abuse, a subject that probably won’t appeal to some despite it existing all around us – but which not enough films attempt to deal with in any sort of depth.
We’re introduced to Laura in her house putting a blindfold on a gentleman caller saying: “Not a word”. “You’re no good to me if you can’t get hard” she kindly says when her rather violent attempts to get him to stand to attention don’t quite have the desired effect. She likes her sex rough and totally loveless while she has to be totally dominant, and the poor guy’s soon had enough and leaves as he’s verbally insulted. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our more ‘right on’ critics have expressed dislike for the way that a bit of BDSM is used as shorthand to quickly tell us how messed up this woman is, therefore suggesting that you have to have a screw loose to enjoy it. Still, this is what Laura obviously spends a lot of time engaging in, while her father William actually seems to set these encounters up. She also continually puts away the booze and chain smokes. While in an age gone by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn and Clint Eastwood made smoking look terribly cool, I don’t think I’ve seen someone puff away so much in a modern movie for a great many years. Anyway, Laura has a bit of a frosty relationship with her dad – or rather she’s frosty with him and doesn’t like it whenever he’s near her. One can quickly guess why, but initial disappointment at this will probably soon disappear, the Hitchcock-style favouring of “suspense over surprise” meaning that one may be tender hooks waiting for the moment when father and daughter will actually just talk about it.
One thing that every viewer will certainly all agree on is the outstanding performance by Evan Rachel Ward. She’s able to switch from terribly damaged to likable to terrifying to pitiful in the same scene with ease. I’ll be honest and say that this actress doesn’t always quite nail her many diverse parts to my eyes. A good example is Westworld, in which she plays a character who can’t remember her past as opposed to someone who has the past hanging over them every single second. There, I think she veers from very good to just average in my probably eccentric view. But here she’s undeniably fantastic and really brings a disturbing realism [which is even more disturbing if you know of a certain ‘Rolling Stone’ interview the actress gave in 2012] to moments such as when Laura’s father comes in her work room and her face suddenly exhibits a subtle revulsion, or when Laura begins to flirt with Eva without even seeming to realise it. But then Julia Sarah Stone is also remarkable as poor Eva, going down the interesting route of rarely playing her as a victim, and the two actresses together have a chemistry that’s so strong you can virtually feel it. And in Laura’s case it’s sometimes just as well as Ward’s so good, as some of her actions are rather unbelievable. She allows Eva to leave the house and roam the streets even though her mother Nancy has posted missing posters, takes her to nightclubs obviously with no fear of being rumbled by the police, and even invites her brother Benjamin over for drinks – though then again Benjamin doesn’t seem bothered by his sister shacking up with an underage girl. And Nancy being a domineering mother shown mostly by her putting pressure on her daughter to play the piano better really is old-hat.
“You don’t have to let your mother make your decisions for you, or control your life,” Laura reassures Eva, with an irony that will becomes apparent. As the police search for Eva, Laura shifts from being cool big sister to someone not much different from her mother, just worse, one of her key moments being when she belts out: “I say what you can do,and what you cannot do!”. One terribly sad scene has Eva eventually get away and about to catch a bus but – well, you know how the scene will end because by now you know that Eva is psychologically trapped more than physically. Sometimes Laura really does go too far, from locking Eva in a room to pushing Eva onto the floor when she gets on with Benjamin, but she usually breaks down in tears and her apologies seem genuine. On other occasions she also blames Eva for many things and makes out that she’s making all the sacrifices. What’s so upsetting is that Laura’s penchant for emotional manipulation seems to come so naturally and she tends to believe that she’s doing the right thing – yet this is a woman who can’t seem to understand certain basic things, such as that sex can actually involve some tenderness. It’s nice to see plenty of time unfolding before the two get to know each other carnally, and Laura does seem to really fall in love with her victim, but is only able to express this love in the most superficial terms. One does sometimes feel for her, especially when she makes a really big mistake near the end, and in her final scene which almost brought on the tears of this critic.
The Sanchez brothers and their cinematographer Sara Mishara fill this film with precise, well thought through shots, like when Eva is playing the piano on the right hand side of the frame and Nancy enters the house on the left while blurry barriers exactly in the middle split them up. Red and blue dominate throughout and combine to simply gorgeous effect in the final scene. There’s certainly some beauty in this film, like a slow motion dance in a bar in red lighting, which is perhaps the most joyous part of Laura and Eva’s relationship for both parties and therefore doesn’t seem gratuitous to these eyes. I can still see some preferring a grittier, less stylised approach to this subject matter, and feeling that it doesn’t need such garnish, while I wasn’t sure about some “floating in space’ shots – but it’s not as if any of this lessens the power and sadness of what we’re watching. And the way the camera tends to keep back from what’s happening, or just begins close and then slowly pans out, works very well. It’s as if the camera is refusing to judge, and if the film is working then neither will you.
Considering the subject matter Allure is quite restrained even if it’s still definitely ’18’ material. For example we only see the beginnings of a brutal rape, and I’ve sat through enough rape scenes of late to have found that a blessing. It’s soon followed by a very clever bit where a character lies – yet is also in a way telling the truth as well as informing someone of something very important. You’ll see what I mean. And I don’t know if the brothers were also intending their film to be a dark metaphor of most relationships, but that’s certainly something else I got from it. Allure could have been crass, silly, dull, many things – but instead it’s a very well balanced look at its subject in addition to being darn good film making. Yes, there are some scenes which clearly weren’t thought through, but that can be put down to inexperience more than anything else. Of course Allure isn’t easy viewing but considering what it deals with it shouldn’t be so anyway. This film might make you stop and think – and not judge so much – the next time you see or hear about somebody being cruel to someone else. What has made them do this? What has made them be like this? Making excuses could be going too far and be even plain wrong, but a bit of understanding could enlighten.
Eureka Entertainment bring Allure to Blu-ray in a top notch transfer that really shows up its superb photography. Sadly there are no extras besides a trailer. I’d love to hear some thoughts on this film from some of the people involved – though it certainly speaks for itself anyway – while there are a few interviews around if you’re willing to look.
The Doc thoroughly recommends Allure and can’t wait to see what Carlos and Jason do next!