Canadian filmmaker Ed Gass-Donnelly (This Beautiful City 2007, Small Town Murder Songs 2010) didn’t have much luck entering the horror field when he made The Last Exorcism II in 2013, a film mostly forgotten by genre fans. Four years later, Gass-Donnelly is back with psychological ghost story Lavender. Did he manage to amend his reputation with horror audiences or is Lavender just another soon to be forgotten ghost story?
The official synopsis:
After losing her memory, a woman begins to see unexplained things after her psychiatrist suggests she visit her childhood home.
Director/producer Gass-Donnelly took a stunning debut script from Colin Frizzell, cast the gorgeous and talented Abbie Cornish (Sucker Punch 2011, Limitless 2011), grizzled Dermot Mulroney (Young Guns 1988, My Best Friend’s Wedding 1997), genre vet Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers 2001, Tusk 2014) and The Blacklist‘s Diego Klattenhoff and created a stunningly beautiful slow burn that will leave you breathless once the credits roll.
Jane (Cornish) can’t remember what happened the night her entire family died back in 1985, leaving her as the only survivor. Throughout her entire life, the events of that last night in her family’s farmhouse remain a mystery to her. After a car accident jostles her scarred brain, Jane’s amnesia is retriggered, but as her present memories start coming back, so do some from her childhood. After getting advice from her psychiatrist (Long) to go back to her family farm, Jane takes her husband, Alan (Klattenhoff), and their daughter, Alice (Lola Flanery: Mary Kills People TV series), on a supernatural trip back home where all of her questions are answered.
Let me start at the beginning. Lavender opens with this surreal, frozen in time sequence where the camera travels through Jane’s home as the police investigate her family’s seemingly random deaths. It’s like a living photograph, where everyone is in the middle of something but has stopped as the viewer gets a peek in on this live snapshot of a horrible scene. This is a testament to cinematographer Brendan Steacy (The Last Exorcism Part II 2013), who’s eye for color, depth, meaning and detail is spot on. As for the end of Lavender, I loved the twists at the end. I thought it was fantastic and edgy that Gass-Donnelly kept the movie going despite the revelations, where he could have let the action drop and still would have had a great film. The acting – especially that of Cornish and Mulroney – was both subtle and believable.
What didn’t work:
Lavender took its sweet time getting anywhere. Although I realize that these little glimpses of Jane’s blurry, fractured world were important to the story, the amount of time that she spends staring off into the distance could have been trimmed. I also thought the daughter’s character was incredibly annoying. She was demanding, whiny and her father gave in to her way too often. I also couldn’t get past some of the movie’s plotholes (how could Jane have gone through her entire life with no one ever mentioning that her family was killed? Was there no investigation into their deaths?). I also figured out the main twist pretty early on, but that may just be because I’ve seen too many horror movies, but I digress.
Lavender is a cross between a ghost story and the tale of mental instability. It certainly could have been trimmed, but the last 20 minutes made up for it a bit. The film officially releases on March 3, 2017, and it will be in theaters, on VOD, and Digital HD – so check it out and see if you can figure out the mystery of hidden inside Jane’s fractured mind.
Avoiding major spoilers I hope,- An investigation into the events of her family’s death would have revealed a clear cause of death in each case but the case might never have been resolved. But of course the police would have talked to her, and of course there would be some suspicion about her involvement, which might or might not be cleared up based on the evidence. The police would want a psychiatric evaluation of her if they thought she was lying about not remembering. Children’s’ Services would not simply put her in foster care but would put her in therapy after she had witnessed her family’s deaths and been so traumatized she had blocked it out. The idea that the foster family or others would never tell her about her family, or what happened to them, or that she had an uncle, or that she owned a house and farm inherited from her parents is just stupid beyond belief. This could all have been fixed in the script. Movies with similar concepts have managed to do it.