Heavenly Creatures (1994) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's notes in white:

Heavenly Creatures (1994) is the true story of two schoolgirls in Christchurch, New Zealand, who became far more than best friends, and eventually murdered one of their mothers, to try to keep from being separated. It was directed by Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings).

The two girls met at school, and became inseparable. They indulged in a rich fantasy world involving knights and ladies, Mario Lanza, and anything else that appealed to them. Their parents began to catch on that they were becoming sexually involved, and tried to break them up. Both families were somewhat dysfunctional, and the two girls felt as if it were them against the world. Juliet's parents decided to divorce. Daddy was going back to teach in England, mommy was marrying her lover, and Juliet was to live in South Africa with her grandmother. Her 15 year old friend Pauline wanted to go with her, but her mother wouldn't allow it. The girls therefore planned to murder Pauline's mother to remove that obstacle.

The two were arrested after the police found Pauline's diaries. They were convicted, and sent to different prisons. They were released at different times, on condition that they never see each other again.


This was Kate Winslet's film debut, and she showed nipples under bath water.
At the time of the original trial in the 50's, there was some talk about the lesbian relationship, but most people were not exactly sure what that meant or how to deal with it, so that aspect of the case was hushed up. How much of the film is dramatic license is unknown, but the basic facts of the murder are accurate. Not only is the story true, but New Zealand journalists became re-interested in the case when the film was released, and went looking for the two women depicted. The one who stayed in New Zealand could not be found, but the one portrayed by Kate Winslet turned up in Scotland as a best selling mystery writer named Anne Perry.
 She can certainly write with some authority on premeditated murder.
Scoop's notes in yellow:

It would easily have been possible to take the source material and construct a pedestrian screenplay. It would even have been possible to make a pedestrian film from the actual award-winning screenplay they had to work with. But director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) is anything but pedestrian. By choosing to present all the characters and images as distorted as the girls pictured them, including the girls' conceptions of each other, Jackson brought a sensibility to their relationship that was on the verge of grotesque. Maybe it would be better to say "an homage to grotesque", because the word grotesque normally carries sort of a negative connotation, but Jackson clearly loves his grotesque characters and images.

The girls created a rich fantasy world that nobody else could enter. Outsiders could barely comprehend the anfractuous mythology of opera singers, noble knights, wicked offspring, and "heavenly creatures". Having built this fantasy together, the girls lived within it, wrote a novel about it, and stayed in character as inhabitants of their imaginary kingdom. The fantasy world provided all their pleasure, and everything outside that world was an unpleasant intrusion. They were bonded together so firmly that they could not bear the thought of being separated, which meant losing the only thing that seemed to matter to them. They had a sexual bond, but that was simply the logical extension of the fact that they were fused into a single consciousness. They shared a genuine love of an intensity and depth of empathy that few of us will ever come close to with another person.

When viewed from this perspective, the murder of Pauline's mother seems logical, even justified. By placing us deep inside the girls' world, Jackson takes away all of our moral authority to judge them. Many films purport to educate us on the murderer's point of view, but this film puts us so deeply inside the fantasy that we take the murderer's perspective. "Why of course", we think, "she must die. Why didn't WE think of that?" Then, just as the girls must have been, we are shocked by the way we've lost our judgment, and are horrified by the realization of what we have done. We didn't kill anyone, but we wanted it to happen, and we're shocked to realize what we wanted.

I admired it, but I can't say that I enjoyed the movie very much. The adult characters are gargoyles as seen by the girls, representing threats to the girl's relationship, and representing the behavior patterns of a world they have rejected. They can't seem like real and loving people, because the girls could not then contemplate killing them. In order for the technique to work, the adults must seem like the dragons who will destroy the beautiful kingdom. The girls themselves assume the irritating mannered behavior of schoolgirls with neuroses and hyperactive imaginations. There really isn't anyone in the film to like, not even a little bit, not even for a short time.

But like it or not, one must stand back in awe at the sheer level of demented imagination that gets the audience so deeply implanted into the murderers' consciousness. Peter Jackson is one twisted mofo.

And I mean that in the most positive sense. He was the perfect choice to direct Lord of the Rings.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, BBC 4/5, filmcritic.com 5/5

  • The film won virtually every New Zealand award, and several others, and was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay.

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: made for a modest $5 million dollars, it was a hit in New Zealand and grossed $3 million in the USA.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Creatures is not light entertainment, but is engrossing, and is probably a low B-. The story is a clear portrait of the girls, giving lots of insight into what shaped them. Some of the Christchurch scenery is gorgeous, and the new director's cut is nicely mastered. (Scoop says: probably a C+ - a dazzling, brilliant niche film without a lot of mainstream crossover. But whatever the grade, there is a lot of talent on display.)

Return to the Movie House home page