Sexual hysteria that drives two 15-year-old schoolgirls to murder is the subject of this wildly hypnotic thriller based on a real case that rocked New Zealand in 1954. Writer-director Peter Jackson, known on the horror circuit for the chilling Dead Alive, moves to the main arena with this spellbinder about the obsession that gripped Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) and her English friend Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet).
Jackson opens his hyperkinetic film with a documentary clip detailing the sedate city of Christchurch, where the events took place. It’s the only chance to catch your breath before Jackson jump-cuts to the immediate aftermath of the crime, with a bloody Pauline and Juliet running through Victoria Park after bludgeoning Pauline’s mother, Honora (a memorably poignant Sarah Peirse), with a rock wrapped in a stocking.
Jackson and co-writer Frances Walsh tell the rest of the story in flashback with the help of voice-overs from Pauline’s diary that explain how her dull life changed with the arrival of Juliet. Barbed wit isn’t the only trait the two share. Both vent their feverish imaginations in writing, inventing a mythical world called Borovnia where creatures avenge any slight the girls perceived in reality. Juliet’s wealthy parents, Hilda (Diana Kent) and Henry (Clive Merrison), are guilty of neglect. Pauline’s mother is judged a worse offender. Seeing a closeness she finds unnatural in the girls, Honora contrives to keep them apart.
Jackson’s visionary triumph, heightened by the blazing performances of Lynskey and Winslet and by Alun Bollinger’s whirling camera, is in capturing the delirium as the girls whip themselves into an erotic frenzy with Mario Lanza records, semi-naked dances in the woods and revenge fantasies. The unthinkable becomes suddenly real. Though Pauline hasn’t been heard from since her release in 1959, Juliet was recently revealed to be the best-selling mystery writer Anne Perry. It’s a fitting postscript to a startling and haunting film.