Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 2020. Blumhouse Productions, Blumhouse Television. Screenplay by Zu Quirke. Cinematography by Carmen Cabana. Produced by Jason Blum, Jeremy Gold, Marci Wiseman. Music by Elizabeth Bernholz. Production Design by Cecil Gentry. Costume Design by Christopher Oroza. Film Editing by Andrew Drazek.
Violet and Juliet are twin sisters who have been working hard at perfecting their musical skills since childhood, currently attending a prestigious arts college where they both practice the piano night and day. Violet is the more outgoing of the two, she makes friends easily and plays, as her teacher puts it, like “the devil is at her door”. You’ll do well to keep track of all the frequent diabolical motifs that show up in the dialogue and trippy imagery of this disturbing and juicy thriller, told, appropriately, from the point of view of the more socially isolated, self-doubting Juliet, who can’t seem to acquire Violet’s star quality no matter how hard she tries and, when told to face the possibility of her own mediocrity, refuses to listen. The school is suffering under a gloom thanks to the recent suicide of a music student who was a star pupil, and who Juliet discovers kept a notebook full of occult-related drawings and mysterious compositions that Juliet believes have a supernatural effect on her life. Violet takes the late student’s place in the school’s year-end performance, set to play a Camille Saint-Saens concerto, but an accident forces her to drop out and leaves room for Juliet to take the spot after having auditioned and failed. There is a possibility that she made a Faustian bargain with Old Scratch to get obstacles to her success out of the way, which also include a teacher who she feels is blocking her who then gets fired after a confrontation with her, and then Violet’s boyfriend Max dumps her in favour of her sister. We as viewers wonder if there really is interference from the spirit world happening in this mesmerizing film, or if our humourless heroine is manifesting these events by her own actions, the visions she keeps having perhaps just the result of her overdoing her anti-anxiety medication. Director Zu Quirke rides a fine line between obscure and mysterious in her feature debut that never falters from beginning to end, it’s a mesmerizing and assured mood piece about the places that deep insecurity can go and never return from and, regardless of how you feel about its conclusion, cynically suggests that there is no cure for those who seek validation from others. Sydney Sweeney is terrific in the lead, her quiet manner always just the right level of disturbing as she keeps searching for unprompted praise and admiration that no one is interested in offering her, resulting in her feeling forced to demand it instead. Quirke’s beautiful direction puts across all the vulnerabilities of the young and ambitious while lacing her solid story with a creative visual scheme that is balanced perfectly with the emotionally credible drama.