I have no doubt that one day gifted visual storyteller Ed Gass-Donnelly will make a brilliant work. With four features under his belt, including This Beautiful City, Small Town Murder Songs, The Last Exorcism Part II and now Lavender, he’s
shown tremendous promise capturing haunting images that externalize the
internal conflicts, horrors and phobias of their subjects. His latest
is a meditative horror film that, despite masterful visual direction and
captivating performances, falls back on familiar horror/thriller
tropes, courtesy of the screenplay by Gass-Donnelly and Colin Frizzell. Students
of the genre will be far ahead, although they may admire the muted,
understated style even if you how the blocks will fit together.
Abbie Cornish stars as Jane, a young mother
suffering from memory loss following a car accident. She’s haunted by
the specter of her past. With an apt and horrifying sequence, young Jane
clenches a knife while the rest of her family lies dead, mostly in a
pool of their own blood. Her uncle Patrick (Dermot Mulroney) is called to collect her.
Twelve years later Jane returns to her rural hometown, married to Allen (Diego Klattenhoff) with a daughter of her own (Lola Flannery),
who also appears to have visions of the Jane’s past trauma in a film
where things are not quite what they seem. Events are remembered when
Jane comes in contact with small objects like keys, jacks and figurines
as the family explores the farm house where the murders occurred, which
has been willed to Jane under a trust established by her family.
Treated by psychologist Liam (Justin Long), Jane
copes with her past trauma and Gass-Donnelly’s camera exists as a kind
of co-conspirator in the horror. Making use of its rural Ontario setting
(as did his Small Town Murder Songs) the film contains one
terrific sequence in a hay maze that’s confusing, claustrophobic and
exhilaratingly composed by cinematographer Brendan Steacy.
Lavender is often an effective and haunting atmospheric
thriller that doesn’t compound its twists with ADD-style turns that
mimic a Billy Mays’ sale pitch (“but wait, there’s more!”). I admire the
film’s ability to commit to a rather simple idea, but that idea seems
to lack the gravity and impact it ought to. The emotional elements are
here for a superb thriller yet they never quite gel the way they should,
especially in the film’s third act when we crave something more in
terms of emotion and character development.
Lavender premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.