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Allure ()

Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Julia Sarah Stone, Denis O'Hare, Maxim Roy

Release Date: March 16, 2018

Runtime: 1 hr. 45 mins.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Laura (Evan Rachel Wood) works as a house cleaner for her father's company but her personal life is not so pristine. Rough around the edges, looking for love in all the wrong places, her heartbreaking behavior points to hardships of the past. One day on the job, in yet another house, Laura meets Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), a quiet teenager unhappy with her disciplined life. In Eva, Laura rediscovers an innocent tenderness. In Laura, Eva finds a thrilling rebel who can bring her into unknown territories. The mutual attraction soon morphs into obsession as Laura convinces Eva to run away and secretly come live with her, perilously raising the stakes for the young, impressionable girl as Laura's emotional instability becomes increasingly clear. As their world closes in, they must unearth certain truths to find a way out.

Review

Spoilers ahoy!

Allure is the psychological study of a disturbed thirtysomething woman and the unhealthy relationship she develops with a girl half her age. Despite a threadbare screenplay featuring overfamiliar motifs, the movie gains traction as a result of a committed, riveting performance by Evan Rachel Wood. The photographic background of co-directors/co-writers (and brothers) Carlos and Jason Sanchez gives the film a strong visual sense as well. Unfortunately, by choosing to present the narrative through the perspective of Wood's Laura, the movie shortchanges the more interesting story, that of 16-year old Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), who is equally attracted to and repulsed by the older woman.

The movie unfolds like a twisted seduction (hence the title, although it might as easily be called Toxic). Even before Laura begins worming her way into Eva's life, we are presented with a series of moments that illustrate how damaged the main character is. There's a scene in which she has anonymous sex with a man and, in order to get off, she has to dominate and abuse him. Her relationship with her seemingly too-patient, long-suffering father, William (Denis O'Hare), hints at something we don't fully understand until later in the film.

Laura meets Ava while working as a cleaner at the girl's house. Laura's instant infatuation develops into an obsession and, taking advantage of Ava's natural sense of teenage alienation, she encourages her to run away from home, offering a "safe" haven. The two move in together and Laura pursues greater intimacy while showing alarming signs of jealousy and possessiveness. (At one time, she locks Ava in a room to prevent her from leaving while Laura is at work.) The relationship turns sexual but Laura's proclivities in the bedroom frighten the timid Ava; this pushes the story into a dark alley as Laura looks elsewhere for sexual fulfillment and Ava sees a side of her lover that had previously been hidden from her.

Allure is dark and disturbing but the tendency is to reinforce two unfortunate cultural myths: the so-called "lesbian molester" and a connection between incest and pedophilia. By the time the screenplay provides its "reveal", we know what's coming, having been trained by other films to expect this sort of thing. Yes - incest can create crippling psychological damage but the way in which Allure manifests that damage is questionable. In Fire Walk with Me, David Lynch chronicled Laura Palmer's spiral into risky behavior (resulting from being raped by her father) without resorting to the negative tropes evident in Allure.

The film, aided in no small part by Wood's performance, generates empathy for Laura. Nevertheless, the character is sufficiently monstrous and self-destructive that it's difficult to overcome the anger and revulsion that result from her mistreatment of Ava. Just as past actions have resulted in Laura's current state, so her manipulation and abuse of Ava will perpetuate the cycle. To their credit, the Sanchez Brothers neither excuse nor justify Laura's behavior but that doesn't make the film as a whole any easier to digest. The screenplay doesn't rise to the level of the behind-the-camera craftmanship or the acting. Allure leaves an impression but it's not a uniformly positive one.

2018 James Berardinelli

Synopsis

Laura (Evan Rachel Wood) works as a house cleaner for her father's company but her personal life is not so pristine. Rough around the edges, looking for love in all the wrong places, her heartbreaking behavior points to hardships of the past. One day on the job, in yet another house, Laura meets Eva (Julia Sarah Stone), a quiet teenager unhappy with her disciplined life. In Eva, Laura rediscovers an innocent tenderness. In Laura, Eva finds a thrilling rebel who can bring her into unknown territories. The mutual attraction soon morphs into obsession as Laura convinces Eva to run away and secretly come live with her, perilously raising the stakes for the young, impressionable girl as Laura's emotional instability becomes increasingly clear. As their world closes in, they must unearth certain truths to find a way out.

Stills