This is the film that rightfully announced the arrival of director and future Oscar-winner Peter Jackson and another eventual Oscar-winner, Kate Winslet, as the major Hollywood players they would later become. “Heavenly Creatures” is based on the eerie, unsettling true story of Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, two disturbingly close friends and social outcasts who create an intense and obsessive fantasy life that eventually leads to murder.
Jackson’s ability to focus on the characters and their intense relationship goes a long way to explain why his “Lord of the Rings” magnum opus was so successful. This is a complicated psychological relationship-drama few directors could pull off so well, and there is no spectacle or CGI to hide behind.
Moreover, the undeniably brilliant, off-kilter tone of the story is handled with perfect precision by the director, and this, I think, is still the greatest feat of his career. “Heavenly Creatures” is a one-of-a-kind achievement that in lesser hands would’ve crashed and burned as absurd camp.
Jackson also does a fine job of recreating the essence and feel of the 1950s in a way that transports you as opposed to a spell-breaking “look-at-that!” nostalgia. Winslet is a real revelation, especially when you compare her to the over-affected actress/celebrity she’s become. As the hysterically-intelligent Juliet, she delivers the undercurrent of anything-can-happen menace that builds the emotional spine of the story. Just as good, though, is Melanie Lynskey as Pauline, a childish, sexually confused, frightened and frightening misfit — the quiet paste-eater you didn’t openly tease for fear of retribution.
“Heavenly Creatures” is a near-classic that slowly stirs your guts with a stick as things march towards the breaking point. But Jackson’s greatest triumph is somehow making us sympathize with a couple of self-involved assholes who come off as supremely spoiled as opposed to troubled. At the final fade, you can’t help but wonder if a few more childhood spankings might have cut this tragedy off at the pass.
“Heavenly Creatures” is available for purchase at Amazon.com.