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LAVENDER Offers a Striking But Far From Shocking Thriller (Review)

LAVENDER Offers a Striking But Far From Shocking Thriller (Review)

Traumatic moments have the power to bend time, to freeze it, forcing us to feel trapped in that split-second that changes a life irreversibly, then seems to stretch on, tormenting us forever. So it’s fitting that such a moment–frozen and fraught–kicks off the psychological thriller Lavender, which follows an amnesiac down the rabbit hole to her long-repressed memories.

The film begins like a high-concept music video. On the dusty driveway outside a humble farmhouse, cops are gathered, expressions of shock on their frozen faces. The camera pushes us past them, inside the two-story family home to discover bodies draped in sheets stained red with blood. There are more policemen inside, they are bent over the corpses in static horror. All is still as we push on, the only sound a taunting tune from an unseen music box. Its song grows distorted and angry as it winds down, revealing the center of this chaos: a little girl, curled up, face speckled with blood, but alive, looking onto the carnage with an enigmatic expression.

This is Lavender co-writer/director Ed Gass-Donnelly‘s chilling and clever way to introduce audiences to the story of a photographer haunted by a past she can’t remember. In the next scene, the girl is fully grown with a family of her own, and Jane (Abbie Cornish) now chooses to freeze time, snapping photographs of abandoned houses for her art. But one fateful photo session unleashes ghosts who demand her return to the family farm. There, she must–at long last–face what went down that terrible day.

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Along the way to the film’s big reveal, Jane’s precocious daughter whispers and wars with invisible playmates, warning her confused father (Diego Klattenhoff) of a mysterious beast. A dubious doctor’s (Justin Long) bizarre behavior sends Jane on a wild goose chase, and deep into a haystack maze. A long-estranged uncle (Dermot Mulroney) emerges to offer house keys and counsel, while mysterious presents, bound in red ribbon, trigger frightful flashbacks.

Regrettably, Lavender‘s strong start is also its high point. Beyond its unsettling intro, it steadily becomes a middling thriller.

Gass-Donnelly coaxes an eerie beauty out of the farmhouse setting. Jane’s stark white sun dress is set off against the green fields, and a red balloon feels miraculous and threatening within the careful staging of its discovery in a cornfield that seems at once beautiful and full of hidden threats. In these moments, the inventive helmer shows a playfulness with color and framing that makes the low-budget offering feel more like the glossier mid-budgeted studio offerings churned out in the late ’90s, the ones that all seemed to star Ashley Judd. Sadly, the story itself–crafted by Gass-Donnelly and Colin Frizzell–fizzles, failing to match the salacious surprises unveiled in sleek studio thrillers.

Lavender-JustinLong

Promising ghosts, twists, and tragedy, Lavender has an intriguing jumping off point. But its journey becomes bogged down by clues that are ultimately arbitrary, offering no deeper meanings beyond being random props that bore witness to the crime. Likewise, Jane’s passion for photography loses relevance after the first act, and a subplot about her failing marriage is barely introduced before being abandoned entirely. The film’s climax does prove stomach-churningly disturbing, with Gass-Donnelly slowing the pacing to a purposefully cruel crawl, hearkening back to the torturous and tragedy-laced intro. But it’s also disappointingly predictable. If you think you’ve guessed it by the half-way point, you’re probably right.

Despite this underwhelming finale, the thriller might have fared better if its star power matched the caliber of Gass-Donnelly’s style. Sadly, Cornish gets lost too often staring into the mid-distance, and her onscreen husband offers plenty of brow furrowing and exasperation, but little else. These flat performances rob the film of the bit of oomph that might have made up what it lacks in storytelling. To their credit, Long and Mulroney try to bring some spark to the proceedings, one playing slickly suspicious, the other grizzled and gruff. But none of the performances offer the kind of carrying charisma to make Lavender standout from a pack of similar secret-laced stories.

2.5 out of 5 burritos:

2-5-burritos3

Images: AMBI Media Group and Samuel Goldwyn Films

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