Cracks

17 Jan

Title: Cracks
Year: 2011
Director: Jordan Scott
Writers: Ben Court, Caroline Ip and Jordan Scott, based on the novel by Sheila Kohler
Starring: Eva Green, Juno Temple, María Valverde, Imogen Poots, Sinéad Cusack
MPAA Rating: R, some sexuality, nudity and a disturbing attack
Runtime: 104 min
IMDb Rating: 6.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 43%
Metacritic: 54

 

While Cracks is far from being a great film, there’s still stuff about it that I definitely liked. I liked the sense of atmosphere that director Jordan Scott (daughter of Sir Ridley) managed to create in this film, her feature-length debut, even though otherwise it was just an array of different moving pieces that were never quite assembled in a way that could provide a coherent film, instead looking like one that was constantly searching to find its shape, to get to the drama that would make it a compelling watch. It’s a flashy sort of debut though, I’ll recommend it because I do think it shows such a great room for improvement, and because in how it tackles a story set in a moody, kind of gothic remote all-girls boarding school, Ms. Scott finds nice way to tackle a wide array of themes, even if as a whole they don’t click just right.

Set during the 30’s (even though the novel from which it’s adapted is actually set in the 60’s), we get informed that in that severe institution the most popular students are those that are part of the diving team, competing under the tutelage of Miss G, the glamorous teacher played by Eva Green. By day the girls are shown how to write proper letters and read conservative texts but by night they are gathering around Miss G who teaches them about modern literature and fashion and tries to get them to become ambitious young ladies. And we’ve obviously seen films like this before where a teacher gets their students to strive for excellence and push the boundaries set by a strict institution, but the thing is that Ms. Green’s character here just so happens to be a little cuckoo.

You get the sense that something will go wrong from the very beginning. Just taking a look at St. Mathilda’s School informs us of that, it’s a secluded sort of place that feels much more like a sort of prison than it does an educational building, with only a ferry to connect the people there to the mainland and a slew of teachers dedicating their lives to maintain the school’s image at all costs. As we focus on the diving team, which amongst its members counts with Di and Poppy (played by Juno Temple and Imogen Poots, respectively, two bright young British actresses) amongst many other girls, a tight group of friends who the film spends a lot of its initial stages establishing as characters.

We start going from girl to girl, from Di to Poppy to Lily to Laurel and so on and so forth, and even as the narrative stylings shift like that, going from one characters to the next, Ms. Scott goes along with the story, letting it unfold successfully enough, deftly avoiding the melodramatic trappings that would have been easy to fall into at first. We get to know Di quite a bit, the team captain and thus the girl closest to Miss G, and also the girl who, as team captain, is in charge of enforcing the rules to maintain her position atop the school’s social ladder. A position that becomes threatened with the arrival of María Valverde’s Fiamma, a new student from Spain that’s quite talented, as she becomes Miss G’s favorite new team member; even though Fiamma’s indifferent to her teacher’s adoration of her. It’s Ms. Green’s portrayal of Miss G that attempts to ground this film and give it some cohesion as it changes perspectives from each of the girls; she’s the constant, we see her becoming rather obsessed with Fiamma, with her beauty and maturity, maybe recalling through her her own time at the school, maybe up to something much more twisted.

Di then becomes consumed with jealousy towards Fiamma, towards how Miss G wants to become her friend, and as such enlists the other girls into a sort of bullying mission to drive her out of school, which actually succeeds. But then Fiamma comes back and she manages to captivate the girls the same way she did Miss G, and in an effort to finally put their differences aside they plan a ritualistic midnight party that goes off in a weird direction as soon as Fiamma drinks too much and passes out. Towards the end the film becomes too unsteady, vivid to the point in which it’s all just too much, but the performances I think kept it afloat, Ms. Green is obviously the one given the toughest task with Miss G, but you feel her pain, and Ms. Temple’s performance as Di borders on scary and makes this film feel like a horror film at times.

There’s obviously a lot of stuff that doesn’t work here, the final act is too melodramatic and the behaviors displayed on screen which were so taut at first go bursting from their seams by the end, and it didn’t need to be such a lurid film because the surroundings and the atmosphere Ms. Scott crafts are inherently vivid to begin with, going overboard with the action itself took a lot from this film in my opinion. But still, it has pretty good performances from its ensemble and a young director with a legendary father that shows she has a voice of her own, one that still needs some tuning, for sure, but it’s very much her own, and props have to be given for that.

Grade: B-

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