As someone who was bullied throughout junior and high school, as well as backhanded compliments from family members, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to say or even do exactly what I was thinking. In my mind, it never ends well, so I mostly just kept it all to myself. This was one of the reasons why I liked Look Away, the latest film from The Debt’s (2007) Assaf Bernstein so much. It went where I have always wanted to go.
Maria (India Eisley: Secret Life of the American Teenager TV series) is a young, tormented girl who should be at her prime. She’s smart, pretty and keeps mostly to herself, but for some reason, she’s the butt of all jokes at her high school. Pushed down, dragged across the ice, laughed at… and that’s just at school. At home, she’s subjected to the worst kind of torment, the neverending blasts from her plastic surgeon father, Dan (Jason Isaacs: the Harry Potter series). “You look terrible. Are you sure you want to go to school looking like that?” Dan is the type of father who assumes that plastic surgery is what an 18-year-old wants for her birthday, expositing this theory in a hard to watch scene where he tells her how he would ‘fix’ her. When Dan exclaimed, “Just look at her! We have a screwed up daughter!” to his wife, Amy (Mira Sorvino: Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion), I just wanted to slap him.
Hoping to find solace in her best friend, the beautiful and confident, Lily (Penelope Mitchell: The Vampire Diaries TV series), Maria puts on a smiling face and pretends that nothing is wrong, even trying to learn how to ice skate so she can attend the prom. Once that friendship starts to unravel due to Lily’s usual confidence getting shattered when she sees what she thinks is flirting between her boyfriend and her friend, Maria no longer has that friendship to bury into. She finds solace in Airam, the girl behind her reflection. But what will happen next? Will Maria become Airam (“Maria: spelled backwards), and let loose everything she’s ever wanted to do and say, or will she continue to fall deeper and deeper into her depression and remain the quiet, tortured Maria that everyone seems to love to hate?
Look Away affected me in many ways, and I sat on it awhile before writing this review. While it’s not perfect and has its flaws, I’m in awe over India Eisley and her ability to play such an intense dual role. The voices, the facial expressions, the way each character held themselves… they’re all unique to either Maria or Airam.
When discussing the film with Jason Isaacs, he asked me what genre I felt this fell into, because he didn’t even know himself. I mentioned that I thought it might be a supernatural thriller, he said, “Oh, you’re one of those! Do you think it’s all in her head?” Marketed as a psychological thriller, I can see it both ways. Either way, Look Away is an intense, dark thriller that will stick with you once it’s over. Written and directed by Assaf Bernstein, the film was originally called Behind the Glass. Personally, I think that’s a much more fitting title. The haunting score by Mario Grigorov is perfect and builds the ambiance, while the gorgeous cinematography by Pedro Luque is awe-inspiring.
Be sure to check out Look Away, available now on digital platforms and DVD.