Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Heavenly Creatures (1994), directed by Peter Jackson.

After a brief travelogue of 1952 idyllic (dull) Christchurch, New Zealand, it opens at the end: two hysterical, screaming girls, covered in blood, witness to some terrible violence. A true story.

How it happened: Pauline, introverted and sullen, is from a working class New Zealand family. Arriving at her school from England is Juliet, posh and brilliantly unconventional, the terror of her teachers. Both were ill as children (bone disease, TB) and perhaps this makes them rebellious and detached from normal life.

They hit it off immediately and develop the sort of Grand Passion for each other you find in novels set in girls schools. Beyond that, they have a shared fantasy life much more encompassing than physical intimacy. They have invented and will be going to the "Fourth World", a paradise for artists: "like Heaven but without Christians".

Their parents try to split them up. Here's weepy Juliet, bursting into her mother's room and finding her in bed with a strange man:


The balloon has gone up. Don't try and fob me off. It's going to cost you a hundred pounds, or else I'm blabbing to Daddy.

...and when being told that Daddy already knows:


I don't care what you do. Pauline and I are going to Hollywood. They're desperately keen to sign us up. We're going to be film stars. It's all arranged. We don't need your bloody hundred pounds anyway so stick it up your bottom!

The girls decide -- their logic is hard to follow here -- that they will be able to stay together if Pauline's mother is dead. The buildup to the climax is unsettling, watching love and a rich fantasy life become deranged and murderous. Are they really going to go through with it? It's just a game, right?

They kill her with a brick wrapped in a stocking, which is a bloody event, bringing us back to the beginning. Of course, the murder is what will keep them apart forever.

It sounds grim, but before that the movie has many funny bits. Peter Jackson has a goofy sense of humor and uses a witty visual style to illustrate the shared fantasy space.

(Aside: I wish he would do small films again).

Fine performances with special mention to Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet, both in their film debuts and both spectacular.

It's a remarkable story, but what came after the events shown in the film is also notable. Because they were minors at the time of the murder, the girls were released after five years in prison, on condition that they never see each other again. Juliet -- the Kate Winslet character -- returned to England and worked as a flight attendant. She eventually became a prolific and rather successful mystery novelist under the name Anne Perry. My public library has a bunch of her books. I tried one. Maybe another someday.

She said the movie implies more of a lesbian relationship than actually happened. As I said above: sex was not the center of their mutual obsession.

Available on Blu-ray.