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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Film Review: Neverlake

Neverlake is a delightfully creepy, dark fairytale of a film, with good performances and some wonderful imagery. In fact, the opening images are excellent. We are in the water, looking up at the surface, where a girl is floating on her back, seemingly dead. As she floats, a hand comes into view in the foreground, deep below her. The fingers are not moving, so we might assume it’s also a corpse. We’re not even a minute into the film, and I’m already hooked.

The girl above begins to sink, while in voice over she recites a small portion of a poem from Percy Shelley. And we see that she is not dead. And the hand that we saw in the foreground is part of a doll or statue. There are other such limbs and other doll parts which rise to the surface as the girl sinks. She reaches out, as if to grab a photograph that passes her, but she can’t grasp anything. And in voice over she says, “My father thinks that poetry is for people who haven’t yet reached or have just lost the gift of reason.”

How is that for an opening sequence?

Neverlake tells the tale of Jenny, a teenager who at her father’s behest travels to Tuscany, where she was born, but where she hasn’t been since. At her father’s home, she meets Olga, a strange but beautiful woman whose role in her father’s life is not at first clear to Jenny. Jenny’s father is mysteriously absent for the first couple of days she’s there, and Jenny goes exploring the Lake of Idols on her own. The lake plays a big part in her father's studies, and is the reason Jenny believes she was sent for. There she meets a young girl with a bandage over her eyes. This girl takes her to an old hospital where she and a few other sick children live. She befriends them and reads Shelley (and later Shakespeare) to them. And it is clear that they need her for something.

The atmosphere is sufficiently creepy. One of the children says: “Try not to let the adults see you. They’re bad.” What’s really wonderful about this is that Jenny doesn’t take them all that seriously. Daisy Anne Keeping gives quite a good performance as the teenage girl who is out of her element without at first being aware of it. Her performance is true and honest and believable, and that helps us feel even more for her, as we as viewers have more of a sense of foreboding than she does.

This film really does feel like a twisted fairytale. It has those classic elements: a girl in a place far from home, a strange and mysterious woman who has entered her father’s life, an absent mother, a land with potentially magical properties (the lake), and a sense of danger that surrounds her and makes her alone and vulnerable.

The film mostly sticks with Jenny, helping us identify with her. We know little more than she does, except what we pick up as impressions, and this really pays off. There is a scene where she suddenly wakes up in a hospital room. She has absolutely no idea how she got there, and neither do we. Though we begin to have very strong feelings about just how she got there, and whom she should not trust. But it’s as much of a jolt to us as it is to her to find her in a hospital room, with her father at her bedside. He tells her she’s fine, that she had a small operation. The calmness of her father adds to the frightening aspect of this scene.

Jenny gets more and more involved in the mystery of the lake, of the children, and of her father’s secret work. It’s a really good film. Sure, there are some minor problems. There are two characters that we see at one point outside the building where the children live, and it’s never clear just what part they play in the story. And there is a moment when it seems the father should be more concerned about something that Jenny has revealed to him, based on what he knows and she doesn’t. And it’s not entirely clear just why Jenny’s father sent her away in the first place. There is a little information about this, but I started wondering about the timeline, though not until after the film. But none of these minor issues detracted from my enjoyment of the film.

Neverlake was directed by Riccardo Paoletti, and is going to be available on Video On Demand starting June 6, 2014. It is also scheduled to be released on DVD later this summer.

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