By Anita Bedell
Abbie Cornish captivates in this stylish thriller about a woman who is forced to remember a horrific past that refuses to be forgotten.
Supernatural thriller by Canadian director/co-writer, Ed Gass-Donnelly (Small Town Murder Songs), Lavender opens with a perfectly creepy farmhouse crime scene tableau of cops and corpses and a little girl holding a straight razor, leaving us to wonder what horrors happened here so many years ago, horrors that Jane (Abbie Cornish, Somersault), now a wife and mother, has all but forgotten. But the past won’t let her forget.
Haunted by the need to photograph abandoned houses, fascinated by the lives they once contained (“houses are like epitaphs, they’re glimpses into the lives once lived, echoes of the people who once lived there”), Jane stumbles upon an old farmhouse in a cornfield and feels an inexplicable pull. An unsettling sense of disassociation and unease builds as Jane’s past creeps into the present. Jane’s daughter begins talking to an imaginary friend who may not be benevolent, and a mysterious young girl appears before Jane, beckoning to her in whispers. It is only after Jane has lost all of her memories (including those of her husband and daughter) in a car accident—a beautifully shot single-take slow motion close-up of Jane in her SUV as it flips—that she begins to unravel the past.
Cornish is captivating as she navigates this discordant world in a trance-like state, where interactions with other characters seem stilted and out-of-place, conversations conveniently too short and to the point, until you wonder if Jane ever woke up after the accident. Justin Long (Live Free or Die Hard) appears as a sympathetic psychologist who seems to know exactly what Jane needs to do.
This unreal sense is enhanced by creeping visuals and Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson’s score, which at times resonates hollow like an empty room, at times anxiety-inducing and startling. Soon, strange gifts appear in neat white boxes, wrapped in red ribbons, items from a past begging to be remembered (keys, a ballerina, a straight razor), items that inevitably lead her back to the abandoned farmhouse.
It is here that her gruesome past comes to life. Perfectly preserved without so much as a layer of dust or plastic on the furniture, the house and its trapped inhabitants have been lying in wait. Locked doors and whispered voices and kid’s songs—like the childhood chant, “Five, four, three, two, olly olly oxen free” Jane whispers under her breath—makes it feel like a game of hide and seek. And there’s a monster under the bed reaching out to grab your ankles. But it’s not the monster you think it is.
Lavender is a gorgeously filmed atmospheric ghost story with a skin tingling score that lulls like a child’s music box and startles like a jack-in-the-box. Watch Lavender as part of the ALT program stream.
Catch Lavender on Sunday October 2 at 9:00pm at the Rio and on Saturday October 8 at 3:45pm at International Village 9.