| Helen


Joe Lawlor & Christine Molloy

UK / Ireland, 2008


Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 17 June 2009

Source 35mm print

Categories The 2009 Independent Film Festival of Boston

Directors Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy have obviously put a great deal of thought and care into their atmospheric debut feature Helen. It is a meticulous film; one gets the sense that every color and every gesture was carefully thought about and meant to portend a great deal of meaning. That’s sort of the problem. The film is undoubtedly highly stylized but it feels too mannered to be truly stylish, and worse, as gorgeous as it is to look at, it struggles to engage the audience on an emotional level.

The film’s titular character is an unhappy teenage girl who is asked by police to step into the role of another girl, Joy, in order to reconstruct the events of Joy’s disappearance. It’s a strange request on the police’s part, and one that results in strange behavior from Helen, who begins to consciously move in on Joy’s old life: wearing Joy’s clothing, visiting Joy’s parents, and getting involved with Joy’s boyfriend. As we learn more about Helen’s hardscrabble past, which never included the material comfort or human warmth that Joy’s life apparently did, Helen’s obsession begins to make sense. There are some promising ideas here, including some apt allusions to Brigadoon (it’s the school’s big production this year) that hint at the themes of longing that the film only engages on a surface level.

Lawlor and Molloy stage the film with such studied detachment, with every scene underplayed and a little too-tightly choreographed, that one spends its duration thinking more about their stylistic choices than their characters. No matter what horrors are playing out on the screen, the players react with a marked absence of hysteria. The scene where Joy’s parents are given the cold task of identifying their daughter’s personal effects, and her mother dispassionately asks to touch her daughter’s jacket registers as oddly chilling but not particularly authentic. Indeed, it’s hard to assess the actors’ work because it’s so obvious that they’ve been instructed to move through the film in a near-catatonic state.

It’s a shame to see such great-looking film descend into such torpor, and one hopes that Lawlor and Molloy will ease up on the controls in their next outing and let their story breath. I wouldn’t be surprised in a few years if filmmakers have found their groove, and Helen comes to be viewed simply as an early experiment that didn’t quite click.

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