Saturday 21 October 2017

Absorbing, tense story of teenage angst

Paul Whitington

she monkeys

(Club, IFI, 83 minutes )

Director: Lisa Aschan Stars: Mathilda Paradeiser, Linda Molin, Isabella Lindquist

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An air of tension and unspoken menace pervades Swedish writer/director Lisa Aschan's dark and brooding debut feature, She Monkeys. At its core are the dark corners of human sexuality and the confusion caused by familial dysfunction.

She Monkeys hints and suggests around these themes rather than spelling them out, and, in ways, bites off much more than it can chew, but it's an absorbing and intensely physical film nonetheless, and the three young female leads are very fine.

Emma (Mathilda Paradeiser) is 15, and lives with her dad and eight-year-old sister Sara (Isabella Lindquist). When Emma joins a team of equestrian vaulters, she begins an intense friendship with Cassandra (Linda Molin).

Rather cruel and possibly a little sociopathic, Cassandra teases Emma but seems increasingly obsessed with her, and as the pair begin to socialise they bring out the very worst in each other.

Sara, meanwhile, has developed a serious crush on her 18-year-old cousin. She seems precociously sexualised, and an awkward scene with her father raises the possibility that she has been abused. Has she, or has Emma for that matter? We never really know for sure, but both sisters are disturbed in different ways and, though Emma seems meek enough at first, her relentless competitiveness with Cassandra provokes a latent violent streak.

She Monkeys' sketchy themes are certainly thought-provoking, but though the script is admirably terse there's a lack of rigour in terms of storytelling. What the film does well is express the inarticulate rage of childhood and adolescence through the confused and impassioned actions of the girls. It's pretty nicely shot, also, and Aschan sustains a single note of grinding tension right till the very end.

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