Cracks (National Geographic, PG-13)

Cracks is more successful in creating atmosphere than it is in paying off the premises it states.



Cracks, Jordan Scott’s debut feature, ostensibly takes place on Stanley Island, but you could be forgiven for wondering if perhaps the location is really Shutter Island. There’s no institution for the criminally insane nearby, merely a girls’ boarding school, but the air positively crackles with menace and an undertone of dark thoughts and dark deeds is present on even the most apparently mundane occasions.

Boarding schools have long been a popular setting for tales of horror and psychological terrorism. Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Children’s Hour, and Les Diaboliques come immediately to mind while by casting a slightly wider net we can include Mädchen in Uniform, Lord of the Flies, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as well. The social dynamics of a closed society offer endless possibilities for treachery, coercion and betrayal. If that society is formed of adolescent girls isolated on a remote island and the story is set during the 1930s, well then you have the ideal setup for a real chiller that may or may not involve supernatural powers.

We spend most of our time in Cracks with a clique of girls formed around the bohemian teacher Miss Green (Eva Green) and led by alpha female Di (a positively frightening Juno Temple). Miss G, as her girls call her, coaches the diving team and likes to strike flapperesque poses and say things like "The most important thing in life is desire" and "Set yourself free of the shackles of conformity." It’s clear that Miss G. thinks of herself as a modern woman who likes to shock the conservative students and teaching staff and believes she is the girls’ conduit to the big world outside Stanley Island.

The other pupils in the clique (or "team" as they like to call themselves) fulfill the role of the supporting cast such as you would expect to find in any boarding school novel. There’s Poppy (Imogen Poots), Fuzzy (Clemmie Dugdale), Lily (Ellie Nunn), Laurel (Adele McCann), and Rosie (Zoe Carroll), and while I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head which was the fattie and which was the brainiac, it doesn’t really matter. They form a stable little society until the arrival of a new pupil throws a monkey wrench into the works.

The new pupil is Fiamma (Maria Valverde), the offspring of Spanish aristocrats and a sultry beauty with an air of worldly knowledge suggesting that she’s already done the things that the other girls only dream about. Fiamma believes she will be staying at the school for only a short while (why she’s there in the first place we are never told, one of several mysteries in this film) and refuses to conform to the existing social order. Something has to give and that’s what feeds the tension, which is relieved only by a betrayal that I certainly didn’t see coming. It makes psychological sense, however, and the conclusion is carried through to the very final scene that lets you know what was really at stake all along.

Cracks is more successful in creating atmosphere than it is in paying off the premises it states. The screenplay, adapted by Ben Court, Caroline Ip and Jordan Scott from a novel by Sheila Kohler, sometimes seems too obvious, sometimes too opaque, and frequently leaves you guessing as to whether some episode has a deeper meaning or was just tossed out there to keep things moving. Several important questions are not answered and these omissions feel more like carelessness than deep intimations of psychological or social mysteries.

The technical aspects of Cracks are first-rate and they go a long way toward establishing the creepy atmosphere, which is its greatest accomplishment. It was shot by John Mathieson, whose other credits include Gladiator, Brighton Rock and Love is the Devil. Javier Navarrete (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone) composed the music and Alison Byrne was nominated for an Irish Film and Television Award for her costume designs for this film. In the final evaluation Cracks is an imperfect film but a very interesting first effort and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing Jordan Scott’s next work. | Sarah Boslaugh



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