J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Tribeca ’16: Lavender

Burl Ives won an Academy Award for his retooled recording of old English folk song “Lavender’s Blue.” This eerie parnormal-repressed memory rendition is not likely to repeat that dubious fate, but it underscores the mood quite aptly. There is indeed quite a lot of creepy kid’s stuff going on in Ed Gass-Donnelly’s Lavender (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Obviously, something profoundly messed with Jane when she was young. These days, she obsessively photographs old, abandoned farmhouses—just for fun. After rolling her car to avoid a little girl who could have walked off a V.C. Andrews’ cover, Jane wakes up with scant memories of her daughter Alice and her not quite fully estranged husband Alan. It seems the accident aggravated long “healed” trauma from her chaotic childhood. According to Liam, the hospital head-shrinker, her rehabilitation might very well awaken long suppressed memories along with her healthy adult memories.

To spur the process, Jane will return to the childhood home she just learned she owns. Apparently, good old Uncle Patrick has been managing the upkeep on her behalf since her years in foster care. Slowly fragments of memory make their way back to Jane, abetted by the unnerving gifts left for her on the porch (ballerina figurines and the like). Unfortunately, Jane will not handle the resulting stress well.

Gass-Donnelly does not blaze a lot of trails in Lavender, but he maintains an appropriately sinister vibe. He definitely has a rural gothic thing going on, which is further amplified by Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld’s discordant chamber-style string motifs and Brendan Steacy’s evocative (one might even say haunted-looking) cinematography.

Abbie Cornish melts down convincingly as Jane, while Diego Klattenhoff looks comfortable enough in the rural setting. Playing a bit against type, Justin Long is not terrible as the psychologist, perhaps prolonging his career another six months. The film also features enough poised, professional, and slightly otherworldly looking pre-teen girls for a decade’s worth of Poltergeist reboots.

Without question, Lavender is a much more accomplished looking and sounding film than most ghostly dramas. Of course, just dropping the phrase “family secrets” sort of telegraphs the big reveal (just how many different kinds of family secrets do we ever see in movies?), but the getting-there is quite skillful. Recommended for fans of moody, carefully produced supernatural thrillers, Lavender screens again tonight (4/23), as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

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