THE REVEREND’S REVIEW
FT’s resident man of the cloth REVEREND PETER LAWS dons his dog collar and faces the flicks that Church forgot! (www.theflicksthatchurchforgot.com)
Flowers in the Attic Dir Jeffrey Bloom, US 1987 Arrow Video, £14.99 (Blu-ray)
So you think your family is difficult? They’ll look like saints after you watch this adaption of VC Andrews’s smash-hit novel, which pushes the dysfunctional dial up to 11. It starts with a creepily jolly brood who seem obsessed with their ‘Father’. But when they leap out to greet him at his surprise birthday party, they find two cops at the door instead. Surprise! Dad’s dead! Party hats are put aside, and mum panics that they’ll be destitute without her late husband’s income; especially since she’s already been disinherited by her own uberrich realtives. Getting a job doesn’t seem to be an option, so instead she carts all four kids to the gothic mansion of her youth where ‘mother’ starts a lengthy plan to win back her father’s love and be written back into the will. The catch? The kids have to stay locked in a secret, upstairs room. But at least they have access to a big, cobwebby attic to play in. The camerawork of Flowers
In The Attic might have that 80s-soft-focus look, but the themes of this story are as hard as nails – from parental neglect, violence and sexual abuse to murder, extortion and incest. That last one, incest, is all over this film. Fathers gaze at daughters a little too long, brothers and sisters wash each other in the bath, and in one skin-tightening scene the old bed-bound dad stares excitedly at his daughter as she drops her dress ready for the whip. Yeah, this film is messed up. It’s like Norman Warren directed an episode of Dynasty. But that combo of perverse melodrama and the gothic setting turn it into a pseudo-horror film that delights and disturbs in equal measure.
It’s also unintentionally funny too. Take one totally gonzo moment where a kid with a blond afro and dressed in dungarees bites his granny’s ankle. Furious, she slaps him out cold on the carpet while threatening to whip the children till “the blood runs from their backs”. It’s both shocking and snigger-inducing at the same time. I’m not saying that the kid deserved the slap, by the way. But these children dress like they’re permanently on a picnic! In the end though, if you can stomach the themes and the 1980s style, then
Flowers in the Attic is really worth checking out, not least because it takes the phrase ‘respect your elders’ to extreme and perverse new heights.
Arrow have included a lot of extras here, including the rarely scene original ending, culled from an old Betamax tape, that was shown to focus groups. It’s a fun conclusion, but the one the film actually opted for is the perfect climax to a piece like this – grotesque, creepy, symbolic and bizarrely pretty.
VC Andrews’s Gothic family sagas were a huge hit with female audiences. I’d hate to label this a ‘feminine’ horror movie – not least because I know that women like high-octane chainsaw movies as much as the next person; yet Flowers in the Attic does feel like a little girl playing dark games in her doll’s house – games that hinge not on the terror of the monsters out there, but the horror of relationships much closer to home. It’s all the more intriguing and unsettling because of that: an intense shot of Gothic melodrama that gets straight into your bloodstream. It’s the film’s trio of warrior women – Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, Danai Gurira’s Okoye and Letitia Wright’s Shuri – who will steal the show for many, though, with their wit, wisdom and ability to kick serious butt. In fact, the whole film is impeccably cast, down to minor roles and the two Caucasians who get a look-in – Martin Goodman as CIA agent Ross and Andy Serkis as maniacal baddie Klaue; or, as some Internet wag brilliantly dubbed them, the film’s “Tolkien whites”.
Visually, too, Black Panther departs from the sometimes bland Marvel template: Wakanda is a world drenched in colour, full of both stunning natural beauty and awesome technological wonders, all brought to life by Oscarnominated Rachel Morrison’s luscious cinematography.
Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler ( Fruitvale Station,
Creed) deserves major props for marshalling the many elements at play here into a coherent and wildy entertaining whole: there are Bond-like sequences of espionage and action, nods to
The Lion King, deft re-imaginings of classic comic book characters (a slyly funny take on M’Baku, for example) and epic battles involving armoured rhinos; and it all works, bar a lacklustre final act fight that lacks substance (and decent CGI) after the more meaningful ritual combat we’ve witnessed earler in the film.
As we go to press, Panthermania is in full swing. Black filmgoers – and not all of them comic readers I’d guess – are attending screenings in all their Afrocentric finery (as at the party-atmosphere premiere this reviewer attended) and sharing their pride and pleasure on social media. In an age prone to hyperbole, one can’t help but feel slightly sceptical about some of the claims being made for the film and wonder whether Black
Panther can really be expected to carry the weight being placed on its cinematic shoulders; whether or not the film turns out to be a watershed moment in Black cinematic representation, it will stand as a dazzling, joyous achievement that goes where few mainstream movies have gone before.