As an age-gap romantic drama with much darker themes, Allure could have been an interesting depiction of how toxic that scenario can become. Sadly, the movie soon devolves into a rambling nightmare, lacking the subtleties of a more able storyteller.
Evan Rachel Wood is fervent and never less than engaging in a woefully written role. It’s commendable that she resonates with a sense of dynamism despite the problematic subject matter, poorly realised on screen by filmmakers Carlos and Jason Sanchez. There’s a kitchen sink approach to the horrific emotional turmoil depicted on screen. As both the abused and an abuser, Laura could be a fascinating, measured and multi-faceted character study of the vicious cycle of victim and victimiser. Wood gives nothing less than her all but her best isn’t met by capable or coherent writing to elevate the subject matter.
Unfortunately, the supporting actors are given even less to work with and this comes to the detriment of their performances, the most egregious of which being Julia Sarah Stone as Eva, the teenage object of Laura’s affections. The chemistry between the two is unconvincing and Stone seems completely out of her depth with a performance better suited to daytime soaps. Denis O’Hare barely registers as Laura’s father, and what is supposed to be a stirring and emotional reveal in the final act, is signposted from the moment he appears on screen in the first. There are no arcs, there’s just as sense of compounded misery and the world slowly turns.
The relationship between Laura and Eva isn’t about love, it’s about control. It starts with compliments and placation which leads to coercion, as sixteen-year-old Eva is plied with weed and alcohol. It doesn’t take long before emotional blackmail, mind games and actual imprisonment pave the way for aggressive sexual abuse. To Laura, you get the sense that her attempt to “save” Eva is an exorcism of self, where in actuality it’s more like a demonic ritual.
All the while it is difficult to ascertain who this movie is for. Is it a cautionary tale about age-gap relationships? Is it a ham-fisted attempt to expose the raw nerve in which Laura has become the very thing she fears? There’s the essence of failed relationships, broken families, incest, rape, physical, mental and emotional abuse, gas-lighting and a whole host of other miseries. The lack of character development or nuance is staggering.
In the interest of ending on a positive note, Sara Mishara’s cinematography depicts the Autumnal framing of this drama beautifully. The use of fractured light seems to denote the trying, emotional beats for both Laura and Eva. This along with Olivier Alary’s haunting score and Wood’s performance are easily the strongest elements in the film, but certainly not reason alone to put yourself through it.
Allure is out now in the UK
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